12.30.2006

headline

With the recent death of former US President Gerald Ford, New Yorkers and former New Yorkers everywhere must remember some of the most famous words never spoken.

The story in very brief. In the 1970s, New York City - like all of urban America - was falling apart. New York was on the brink of bankruptcy, and City officials were seeking a federal loan to stay afloat. According to the New York's Daily News, this was the response:

dropdead

By now we all know Ford never actually used those words, but the headline may have cost Ford (who was both an unelected vice-president and president) the presidency the following year: Jimmy Carter narrowly carried New York State.

Not only did Ford never actually say "drop dead" - although he arguably implied it - he soon changed his mind. Only a few months later, Ford signed legislation providing federal loans to New York, which were repaid with interest.

Now, taking the revisionist history one step further, people who were involved with the City at the time acknowledge that Ford's response and timing were probably good, if unwelcome, medicine for the struggling City. Sam Roberts of the New York Times had a good story about this a few days ago, full of Big New York Names like Felix Rohatyn, Victor Gotbaum, Henry Stern, Ed Koch, Abe Beame and Hugh Carey. The infamous PR man Howard Rubenstein, who advised Mayor Beame at the time, says Ford's speech and the News headline "galvanized New York like I've never seen before". He says a framed copy of the newspaper hangs on his office wall.

14 comments:

redsock said...

The New York Times headlines (October 30, 1975)?

"'BAILOUT' BARRED;
President's Plan Has Provision for Safety in Event of Default
Ford Asserts He Would Veto City Loan Guarantee"

and

"BEAME AND CAREY DECRY FORD PLAN;
Proposal Called 'Simplistic' by Governor
Mayor Says It Is Nationally Divisive
Beame and Carey Decry Ford Over Plan"

Boring!

L-girl said...

They may be more accurate, but I guarantee no one has a framed copy hanging in an office!

David Cho said...

He was the first American President that I became aware of as a kid.

Actually, the first American news I remember learning was Nixon's resignation on TV. Living under a military dictatorship, most Koreans' eyes popped at the very notion of a president resigning over a crime which seemed like nothing. I remember my grandfather who was very anti-government raving about American democracy in action.

I know that a lot of Americans felt ashamed because of Watergate, but to Koreans, it made America look really good.

But GWB on the other hand...

L-girl said...

a crime which seemed like nothing.

Sadly, many Americans still think Watergate and the cover-up were nothing. In fact, it could have been nothing short of the end of the democratic process.

The hearings were a watershed moment. The way the crimes were handled then, contrasted with the present - the huge yawn that has met two consecutive stolen elections - is really telling.

On TV, the Watergate hearings went on and on and on. People got bored. And the networks said, let's not bore people anymore. It's like the "lessons of Vietnam" that were learned. They learned all the wrong ones.

* * * *

I keenly remember watching Nixon's resignation speech. I was in summer camp and they brought out a TV for us to watch. My parents were in Paris, grabbing English-language newspapers and celebrating on the sidewalk.

David Cho said...

I should say Watergate seemed like nothing to Koreans because to them, it was just a third rate burglary and a subsequent cover-up.

In the context of political dissidents getting tortured and killed, and the president running the country as a ruthless dictator, just the idea of a head of a country being investigated was beyond their imagination.

L-girl said...

I knew what you meant. In the context of the US, it was more important than many people realize.

James said...

Sadly, many Americans still think Watergate and the cover-up were nothing. In fact, it could have been nothing short of the end of the democratic process.

And, of course, the Watergate burglary was probably the least of the crimes under Nixon's belt -- but because of the focus on that, the others never got much airplay.

L-girl said...

the Watergate burglary was probably the least of the crimes under Nixon's belt

Oh, I have to disagree with that. The burglary and the cover-up were an attempt to steal the election. That ranks pretty high (or low) in my book, even for Nixon.

James said...

Oh, I have to disagree with that. The burglary and the cover-up were an attempt to steal the election.

They were part of a plan to steal the election, but only part.

How do they rank compared to bombing Cambodia?

A lot of the US refusal to endorse an International Court can be traced back to not wanting Nixon's staff -- especially Kissenger -- to be tried for what they did on Nixon's behest under his administration.

And who knows what else fell under Ford's blanket pardon?

L-girl said...

Obviously mass murder is worse than election-rigging. But election-rigging is the root of much else - as we're seeing now.

My point is not to debate which was the worst of Nixon's crimes. My point is that Americans of all political stripes dismiss Watergate as a trivial matter. I maintain that it was not trivial in any way, that it was gravely important - and again, that the lessons taken from it seem to be all the wrong ones.

loneprimate said...

What amazes me is just how much things have changed. Thirty years ago, a man had to resign the presidency and potentially face charges... not for ordering a break-in, but just for covering it up afterwards. Today, a man can be elected president under allegations of electoral fraud -- not once, but twice; he can start a war based on lies that come out, quiet clearly, as lies during his tenure; he openly declare and assert the powers of his office above and beyond those of the Constitution; he subvert the powers, discretion, and authority of the Congress (with barely a peep from any sitting member); he can first suborn torture, secret trials, spying on citizens, and the abandonment of habeas corpus, and then finally do them openly... and not only does he enjoy the likelihood of a serene, influential, wealthy, and powerful retirement, but the people still imagine they have a republic. What a shame boring old black-and-white Richard Nixon did not live to see this Technicolor vindication of his methods.

L-girl said...

What amazes me is just how much things have changed.

The biggest change - the enabler of all those other changes? The media.

Looking at the difference between the Watergate era and today, that's what immediately jumps out.

Woti-woti said...

Ford saved the US from a national nightmare? Bullshit. The reason Bush acts with impunity is because he can. The best thing that could have happened to the US (and the Presidency) would have been for an evil, power-hungry man to have been publicy prosecuted for the abuses he committed and/or condoned. Or do 'examples to others' only apply to little people?

L-girl said...

The reason Bush acts with impunity is because he can.

That's what I mean about the media.

If the press was still adversarial to govt, as they're supposed to be, rather than stenographers, it would be a lot harder to get away with this bloodless coup. (Bloodless only in Washington and Crawford, of course. Plenty of blood to go around elsewhere.)