The Magazine

Ford tough, Ken Kesey's bus, and more.

Jan 15, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 17 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The Real Gerald Ford

In eulogy upon eulogy after his death December 26, President Gerald Ford was remembered as decent, down to earth, caring, self-effacing, and, especially, a wonderful parent. All true. But if that's all there were to Gerald Ford, one might conclude he was merely an unusually nice and modest man. He was much more than that. He was also tough, shrewd, sometimes calculating, ambitious, and combative.

Check the record. In 1948, Ford ousted an incumbent Republican congressman. In 1965, he challenged House Minority Leader Charles Halleck and took his job. In 1974, as an unelected president, he pardoned Richard Nixon. In 1976, he hammered Ronald Reagan in the Republican primaries as a man who couldn't start a war as governor of California but could if elected president.

Ford was no wimp--and that's the point. Even an accidental president doesn't get to the White House by decency alone. He has to have labored long and hard to be in a position to be selected. Ford had the makeup (though not always the policies) we want in a national leader. He was a combination of nice guy and skilled politician. America has produced many such leaders, but few more worthy than Ford.

Vice President Cheney put it as well as any of the multiple eulogists, in his remarks at the U.S. Capitol on December 30:

"Fifty-eight years ago, almost to the day, the new member from Michigan's 5th district moved into his office in the Cannon Building, and said his first hello to the congressman next door, John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts. They belonged to a generation that came early to great duties, and took up responsibilities readily, and shared a confidence in their country and its purposes in the world.

"In that 81st Congress were four future presidents, and others who wished for that destiny. For his part, Mr. Ford of Michigan aspired only to be speaker of the House, and by general agreement he would have made a fine one. Good judgment, fair dealing, and the manners of a gentleman go a long way around here, and these were the mark of Jerry Ford for a quarter century in the House."

End of the Trip

Imagine THE SCRAPBOOK's dilemma when we ran across an Associated Press account last week about the blighted efforts to restore the late Ken (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) Kesey's psychedelic bus, which seems to be dissolving into the weeds somewhere in rural Oregon.

For those younger readers who don't know what we're talking about, here's the AP's description of this national treasure: "With a jug of LSD-laced juice in the refrigerator, clean-cut Kesey pals known as the Merry Pranksters on board and Neal Cassady, the driver in Jack Kerouac's On the Road at the wheel, the bus crossed the country from California to New York"--a journey made famous in Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968).

As you might imagine, restoration efforts have not gone smoothly. To begin with, when he purchased a new bus 15 years ago, Kesey dumped the old one into a swamp--a storage venue not recommended by preservationists. A restaurant owner in Hollywood thought he had an understanding with the Kesey family to raise $100,000 to shine the 1939 International Harvester model until it sparkled; but they seem to have encountered creative differences--you know how that works in Hollywood--and now Kesey's daughter-in-law is reluctant to continue work until a documentary film deal can be worked out.

"I want to make sure we do this right and get involved with the right people," she told the AP. "This involves the memory of my father-in-law, and I take that very seriously. We just want to work with people with the same ideas about the bus as we do [sic]. We want to be sure it's on display for the most people possible."

Thus far, the bus has been hauled from the swamp, scrubbed a little, and Willie Nelson has kindly offered to install a new biodiesel engine. But that's about it. Alas, documentary filmmakers are not exactly besieging the Kesey homestead, and frankly, the whole project taxes THE SCRAPBOOK's customary support for historic preservation.

"This is an icon of America," one ex-Merry Prankster said to the AP. "It would be nice to see it back out on the road again to bring the reality of the '60s into the 21st century." In which case, in THE SCRAPBOOK's considered opinion, Willie Nelson should save his biodiesel money and help that Hollywood restaurant owner push this icon of America safely back into the swamp where it belongs.

Adam Smith 101

THE SCRAPBOOK is delighted to recommend the latest, and by our reckoning most delightfully erudite, book from our wise, amusing, and prolific friend and contributing editor P. J. O'Rourke: On the Wealth of Nations (Atlantic Monthly, 256 pp., $21.95).