Transcript of Live Chat with Gerald Ford

The following transcript is from the February 10, 1995 live chat with former President Gerald R. Ford.

OnlineHost: Good afternoon! Scholastic is honored to welcome the 38th President of the United States, President Gerald R. Ford. This honored guest for the special event, "America's Presidents," led our country out of the turmoil of Watergate and Vietnam during his presidency (1974–1977). President Ford has continued to serve our country, working for various charitable causes and improved international relations. Scholastic members posted hundreds of questions in advance to President Ford.

Comment: Our class has learned so much about you since we found out that you would be online. We think it is wonderful that you decided to take time to speak to so many of us eager learners. President Ford, you have made this an exciting learning experience. Although we were not yet born during your administration, we can tell you were one of the greatest presidents. You have inspired all of us to go after our dreams. -- Mrs. Carobene's and Mr. Plastino's 3rd grade classes, Colonial School, Pelham, NY.

Question: What do you consider to be the single most important accomplishment of your presidency? -- Dale Rosene, 8th Grade, Marshall Middle School, Marshall, MI.

President Ford: When I became president the country was in turmoil, a result of the Vietnam War and Watergate. We were facing riots in our major cities and many college campuses. There was a serious distrust of the White House and the Federal Government. As president it was most important that I heal the land to restore public confidence in our government. Healing America was the greatest accomplishment in my administration.

Comment: It is an honor to be communicating with you. -- Miss Pavlik's 5th Grade, Norfeldt School, West Hartford, CT.

Question: When you suddenly assumed the role of president after President Nixon resigned and you got to spend your first few moments alone with no one else around, what was the biggest fear that passed through your thoughts? -- Mrs. Grindall'S 4th/5th Grade, Portage Path School of Technology, Akron, Ohio.

President Ford: I was not really worried about my capability to handle the responsibilities as president. I had been in the Congress for 25 1/2 years, Vice President for nine months. I had many contacts with previous presidents involving domestic and foreign policy crises, so when I took the oath of office, I had a good feeling about the opportunity to do the job. I did not fret or worry because I was prepared to handle the new challenges and responsibilities.

Comment: Thank you for leading our country at a very troubled time. -- Mrs. Arlene Gaudioso's 5th Grade, Rohrerstown Elementary School, Lancaster, PA.

Question: The decision to pardon Mr. Nixon must have been very difficult. What was it that made that decision the "right one" for you, and have you ever regretted it? Did you remain friends with Mr. Nixon over the years before he died? -- Susan Barkdoll's 3rd Grade, North Verdemont Elementary, San Bernardino, CA.

President Ford: I have never regretted my decision to pardon Mr. Nixon. It was the right decision when I made it in 1974 and the public today better understands my reasons as a result more than 50% of the American people are supportive of my pardon of Mr. Nixon. Let me tell you why I made this very critical decision.

In the first few weeks that I was President, I was facing a serious economic recession in the U.S., inflation was high, interest rates were going up, unemployment was getting worse. At the same time I was worried about the attitude of our allies in Europe and our enemies in the Soviet Union. These serious challenges required 100% of my time as president. At the same time, I was called upon to spend 25% of my time in the Oval Office listening to the Department of Justice and my White House Counsel as to what I should do with Mr. Nixon's tapes and papers.

I finally decided the only way to spend 100% of my time on the serious problems of the Federal Government and 30 million citizens was to get rid of the time spent on Mr. Nixon's tapes and papers. To do that, I pardoned Mr. Nixon, got his problems off my White House desk, so I could spend all of my time on the nation's problems at home and abroad.

Comment: We've all talked about how hard it must be to be president. You have to make decisions for a lot of people. Sometimes people forget to say thank you when you do good things for them, or for even trying. We just want to say "Thank You, President Ford" for all the times you helped our country, and for the times you tried hard to help us but things didn't work out. Not everyone is brave enough to be a president. -- Mrs. Rogone's 3rd grade, Castleton, NY.

Question: You faced so many problems while in office  —  inflation, recession, the fall of So. Viet Nam — its refugees, Watergate. What was your worst problem? -- C. Rose's 7-8 Grade, Centerville Jr. High School, Fremont, CA.

President Ford: You have to divide the problems of foreign policy and domestic problems. In foreign policy, it was a major challenge to negotiate with the Soviet Union on how to reduce the nuclear confrontation. At that time, there were two super powers — the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Both nations had huge nuclear arsenals. I negotiated with Mr. Brezhnev of the Soviet Union to reduce the nuclear threat. We made significant results. That was a major challenge and success of my Administration.

Domestically, the most serious problem after healing our nation was how to overcome the economic recession that I inherited and restore economic prosperity. In my judgment the Ford Administration was successful in our dealings with the Soviet Union and restoring economic prosperity.

Comment: It is a great honor to communicate with you via modern technology. -- Mrs. Panattoni's 4/5 Grade, Ellis School, Sunnyvale, CA.

Question: How do you believe your efforts at "detente" with the Soviet Union influenced our current relations with Russia and the associated countries today? -- EMS Eagles, Mrs. Jo Browning's 7th Grade, Elmbrook Middle School, Elm Grove, Wisconsin.

President Ford: By standing strong and powerful in our confrontations with the Soviet Union, and exposing the failures of Communist economic policy, the Ford Administration was influential in bringing about the downfall of the Kremlin. My Administration (participated in) the Helsinki Accord, where 35 nations on both sides of the Iron Curtain met to expose the lack of human rights in the Soviet Union. We added another blow at the Soviet Union and its satellites. The total collapse of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall came in 1989–1990, but the disintegration externally and internally started during my Administration.

Question: What did Betty Ford do to help you out when you were president? -- Stephen Jones, Mr. Dickey's 5th Grade, Millinocket Middle School, Millinocket, Maine.

President Ford: My wife, Betty Ford, at all times during my political career was most helpful with her strong convictions on certain issues. For example, she was an ardent advocate of ERA, the Equal Rights for women. With her support and my own strong convictions, I was able to get the amendment on the floor of the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, the Senate did not take follow-up action.

Betty prodded me frequently to make sure that women were treated equitably when positions were open. As a result, I appointed Carla Hills, Secretary of HUD. She was a very effective member of my Cabinet. At the time, I had the opportunity to appoint a member of the Supreme Court. My wife was very active in promoting several women who would be fully qualified for that job as a Justice. There were other issues in which Betty was very active in promoting. I can assure you that she twisted my arm, but did it less visibly than perhaps some successor ladies.

Question: When you were president you had a lot of decisions to make. What was the most difficult one to decide and how did you make your choice ? -- Carlos Ramirez, Ms. Shell's 5th Grade, John Ruhrah Elementary, Baltimore, MD.

President Ford: As I said earlier, the toughest foreign policy decision was negotiating with Mr. Brezhnev to reduce the nuclear threshold. The most difficult domestic issue was how to get rid of the economic recession and restore economic prosperity. In dealing in foreign policy, I was very fortunate to have the advice and knowledge of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who was one of the finest Secretaries of State in the history of the U.S. On domestic economic policy, I was equally fortunate to have the advice of Alan Greenspan, Chairman of my White House Economic Council, my Secretary of the Treasury, Bill Simon, and others. A President is helped in making good decisions by the quality of his Cabinet. I had an excellent Cabinet.

Comment: Seton Elementary School in N.E. Wisconsin welcomes President Ford here today. We have students participating in this medium, representing their respective class.

Question: Did you ever feel like ripping your hair out because of stress? -- Phil V. DiTommaso, Mrs. Joanie Campbell's 5th Grade, Dutcher Elementary School, Turlock, CA.

President Ford: I had lots of problems, but I never tore my hair out. There seemed like a better solution. Besides, I didn't have that much hair to spare.

Question: What were the sacrifices you made and the things you lost during your presidential term? -- Christina Kissel, Jennifer Presti, Nathaly Scuro, Danielle Uchniat, and Jessie Geitz, Mr. Urban's 5th Grade, Hutchinson School, Pelham, NY.

President Ford: I don't believe there were any personal things that I lost while I had the privilege of serving as President of the United States. As you know, I never aspired to be president. My political ambition was to be Speaker of the House, but I got diverted with the resignation of Vice President Agnew. I then became president with the resignation of President Nixon. I considered the presidency a great honor and tremendous challenge. In no way was it a sacrifice to be president. I had many wonderful experiences while in the White House, which I will always cherish during my lifetime.

Question: Really, what DID you think of Chevy Chase's impersonations of you? Did you ever meet him? -- Mrs. Arlene Gaudioso's Fifth Grade, Rohrerstown Elementary School, Lancaster, PA.

President Ford: I enjoyed, up to a point, Chevy Chase's impersonations. Yes, my wife and I have met and had an opportunity to get acquainted with Chevy Chase. He is a very skillful entertainer who had a sharp and penetrating sense of humor. I have learned over the years in the political arena that you cannot be thin-skinned. You have to take the good with the bad.

Comment: It is such a good feeling to be able to talk to a president. -- Kids from OLF School, Piscataway NJ.

Question: What was your favorite book as a child and why? -- Karen Foley, 4th Grade, E.A. Bogert School, Upper Saddle River, NJ.

President Ford: While I grew up, I read every Horatio Alger book I could get my hands on. Those stories were an inspiration to me and had a significant impact on my ambition as I matured.

Comment: You were a *Great* president, that's all I have to say!

Question: If it were up to you, who would get the Republican nomination for President in '96? -- Andrew Mandel, Mrs. Tinker's 11th Grade, Saddle River Day School, Saddle River, NJ.

President Ford: At this point, I have no special favorite for the Republican nomination. Senator Bob Dole is an outstanding Republican leader in the Senate. He was my vice presidential partner in 1976. Senator Phil Gramm has had a fine record in the Congress. Former Governor Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who was also Secretary of Education under President Bush, has undertaken an able campaign for the Presidency. There are several others. I was disappointed that Dick Cheney, Jack Kemp and Dan Quayle had withdrawn from the presidential campaign. There are several dark horses, such as Governor Pete Wilson of California, Governor Weld of Massachusetts and others. At this point it's a wide open contest.

Comment: President Ford, amazing, to be able to communicate through this medium! I had the honor of meeting both Pres. Reagan, and Pres. Bush (briefly) and shaking their hands. What a delight to be able to meet you via computer tech.

Question: Do you think it would be a good idea to have a women on the 1996 Republican ticket, and if so, whom? -- Kevin Edmunds, Mrs. Jensen's 5th Grade, Cox School, Fountain Valley, CA.

President Ford: It is a distinct possibility that the Republicans in 1996 would nominate a woman as a candidate for V.P. For example, Governor Whitman of New Jersey who has done an excellent job as Governor, would be a most attractive V.P. candidate. I would not rule out others as a possibility.

Comment: To all Teachers: It must be great to have classes online like this. I wish I had this when I went to school... :-).

Question: Do you feel that the federal government spends enough money on education or should they spend more? How would you change the way government allocates money for education? -- Jayne Karpen's 6th Grade, Shallow Intermediate School, Brooklyn, NY.

President Ford: The Federal Government spends a significant amount of money on behalf of education. It is divided between general support for education and for specific programs, such as Head Start and others. The major funding for local education comes from the community and the individual state. The Federal Government contribution for general education is approximately 8-10% overall.

The Federal contribution for specific programs of education is a major part of the funding. In my judgment, the Federal Government should emphasize its support for specialized programs where we can see excellent results. I would not recommend any cutbacks in the support of education, but I would require that the education proponents fully justify their funding in the future.

Comment: I think that you and your wife Betty did an admirable job considering the circumstances.

Question: If I wanted to become President and lead America, what advice would you have for me? -- Irina Kantorovich, PS 99, Brooklyn, NY.

President Ford: I would strongly recommend that anyone who has the ambition to become president would first get an excellent education. One must first graduate from high school, then college and possibly a graduate degree. In my judgment, one should achieve good grades. It is also important to have outside activities that involve the day to day problems of the community. A person must know about people problems and community problems if he or she wants to be a successful office holder — at the local, state, or national level. A good president is one who is well educated, but who knows the problems firsthand throughout the country. With this background, you are qualified to serve in the White House, providing you can get the nomination and be elected.

Comment: President Ford, I agree that the country was too divided to handle prosecutions of Nixon and it would have lessened our standing in foreign eyes for a former President to have gone through them.

Question: How did you feel when you received offers to play professional football and why did you turn down the offers? -- Mrs. Hargrove's 6th Grade, Canby Lane School, Decatur, GA.

President Ford: Quite frankly, I was overwhelmed to receive two offers to play professional football from the Detroit Lions and the Greenbay Packers. I was tempted because it was during the Depression when there weren't very many jobs available for a college graduate. The nation was faced with 25% unemployment. Fortunately, I was offered a job as Assistant Football Coach at Yale University for a salary of $2,400 a year. I thought this was a better opportunity, though less money, than playing Pro football, because I would also have the opportunity to attend Yale University Law School.

As I look back, I made the right decision, although on occasion it would have been nice to have played one year in the NFL. I think this illustrates that you have to make tough choices. I'm glad that it worked out the way it did.

Question: Did you ever get help from past presidents with foreign or domestic policy? What do you think about former President Carter helping President Clinton with many matters? -- SUP59.

President Ford: To my knowledge, every sitting president has, whenever he thought it was necessary, called on former presidents to be helpful. President Carter, when he was in the White House, asked for my help on at least four foreign policy issues. For example, I supported him and helped to get some votes in the U.S. Senate at the time of the Panama Canal Treaty and the recognition of the People's Republic of China. I respect former President Carter's desire to help President Clinton in foreign policy, but I think it mandatory that Carter carry out the Clinton policies. Former President Carter should not in any way whatsoever undercut the foreign policies of President Clinton or his Secretary of State. Any deviation from White House foreign policy would be harmful, not helpful.

Question: Do the secret service agents ever wait on you like they do in the movie, "Guarding Tess"? -- Laurel Browning's 8th Grade, Saint Andrew's School, Saratoga, CA.

President Ford: The Secret Service has a very special responsibility: protecting a President or a former President from any threat. The Secret Service is a very professional organization that carries out its mandated duties. I will always be most grateful for their protection when there were two attempts on my life while in the White House. As you know, Squeaky Fromm tried to shoot me in Sacramento, but was intercepted by an agent. Sarah Jane Moore did shoot at me in San Francisco but fortunately missed. This illustrates the basic duties of the Secret Service. They are not assigned to broader personal support.

Question: Who was your childhood role model? -- Dan Krull, Stuart Sharack's 5th grade, Juliet Long School, Gales Ferry, CT.

President Ford: My childhood role models — my mother and my stepfather. My mother was a strong, wonderful lady and my stepfather was a great inspiration because of his integrity, hard work and community dedication. I will forever be grateful for the guidance and support of my mother and stepfather.

Question: How would you like to be remembered? -- Mr. Clifford's 7th Grade, DeForest Middle School, DeForest, WI.

President Ford: As president, I want to be remembered as the person in the White House who assumed that responsibility under very difficult circumstances and restored public trust in the presidency and healed the nation following the tragedies of Vietnam and Watergate.

Finally, let me express my deep appreciation for the opportunity to communicate with an audience of over 500. I congratulate you on the fine questions and your sincere interest in the Presidency and government problems. I strongly urge that all of you study hard and have ambition to serve your nation. Good luck and God bless you.

OnlineHost: Many thanks to President Ford for joining us this afternoon and sharing your experiences with us. We appreciate this special opportunity to speak with you. And thanks to our audience for your great questions!

  • Subjects:
    The Presidency