Upon assuming the vice presidency in 1973, Gerald R. Ford warned, "I am a Ford, not a Lincoln." What he didn't say was that he was a Taurus, a model the automaker has discontinued as of this year.
The Gerald Ford model has already been discontinued by the Republican Party and that's to its detriment. That was evident in the outpouring of affection for the 38th president. Instead of Gerald Fords — moderates willing to put the nation's interests ahead of partisan politics — the GOP is controlled by far-right conservatives.
It's interesting and didactic to look at how President George W. Bush and former President Ford approached the issue of affirmative action.
On Jan. 15, 2003, what would have been Dr. Martin Luther King's 74th birthday, Bush announced his opposition to two University of Michigan affirmative action cases headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.
Bush neglected to point out at that the same program he was criticizing was open to poor Whites and that an equal number of points given under the program were automatically awarded to scholarship athletes and persons handpicked by one of the university's top administrators.
Gerald Ford wrote a letter to The New York Times making a passionate case for race- and gender-conscious remedies.
"At its core, affirmative action should try to offset past injustices by fashioning a campus population more truly reflective of modern America and our hopes for the future," Ford wrote. "Unfortunately, a pair of lawsuits brought against my alma mater pose a threat to such diversity. Not content to oppose formal quotas, plaintiffs suing the University of Michigan would prohibit that and other universities from even considering race as one of many factors weighed by admission counselors."
He continued, "So drastic a ban would scuttle Michigan's current system, one that takes into account nearly a dozen elements — race, economic standing, geographic origin, athletic, artistic achievement among them — to create the finest educational environment for all students.
Ford's racial sensitivity did not begin when he became a public servant.
"Thirty years before Selma, I was a University of Michigan senior, preparing with my Wolverine teammates for a football game against visiting Georgia Tech," he wrote in The New York Times column. "Among the best players on that year's Michigan squad was Willis Ward, a close friend of whom the Southern school reputedly wanted dropped from our roster because he was Black. My classmates were just as adamant that he should take the field. In the end, Willis decided on his own not to play."
Completing Nixon's term, Ford appointed William Coleman, an African American, as his secretary of transportation. That appointment also underscored the difference between Bush and the Ford model. Bill Coleman and Assistant Secretary of Labor Arthur Fletcher were Black Republicans, yet never stopped pushing for affirmative action.
By contrast, most of Bush's Black cabinet appointees have fervently opposed affirmative action. Some have opposed affirmative action even though they acknowledge that they have personally benefited from it.
Another indication that the Gerald Ford model has been taken off the GOP market is the type of judges appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. So far, Bush has appointed John G. Roberts and Samuel Alito, both staunch conservatives. Ford, on the other hand, appointed John Paul Stevens, a moderate, to replace retiring Justice Douglas, the court's most liberal member.
"There is no question Ford has been a sincere proponent of civil rights," Jeremy Mayer, author of "Running on Race: Racial Politics in Presidential Campaigns 1960-2000," told the Detroit Free Press. "He seems to have had a much greater comfort level with African Americans than other Republicans."
George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service and BlackPressUSA.com.