Saturday, January 6, 2018

Scott Kaufman's "Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party"

Scott Kaufman is chair of the Department of History at Francis Marion University, Florence, South Carolina. He is the author of many books, including Rosalynn Carter: Equal Partner in the White House and Project Plowshare: The Peaceful Use of Nuclear Explosives in Cold War America.

Kaufman applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party: A Political Biography of Gerald R. Ford, and reported the following:
Gerald Ford was, until 2017, the longest-lived former U.S. president. Three themes marked the overwhelming majority of his 93-year-long life. The first was his ambitiousness. He was a workaholic who put enormous energy into achieving the goals he set before himself. As a child, he joined Boy Scouts, sought to become an Eagle Scout, and did so in three years. He became a starter on the football team at South High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and then at the University of Michigan. During his quarter-century in the U.S. House of Representatives, he sought to become speaker. He never did, but through an unprecedented series of events, he became president. Even as an ex-president, he remained ambitious. He thought about running for the White House again. After deciding not to return to an elected post in Washington, he joined numerous corporate boards.

Second, Ford was loyal to the Republican Party. He grew up in a conservative district of Michigan and was inspired by a father who survived the Great Depression without seeking government assistance. For the remainder of his life, he stood behind the party, though he grew concerned as the GOP moved ever more to the political right. But—and this is the third theme—he was pragmatic. He was not an ideologue. Whether as a congressman, president, or ex-president, he sought to remain loyal to his conservative views. However, he saw nothing wrong with reaching across the aisle and compromising with Democrats.

Turning to page 99 of Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party, one will find a reference to all three of these themes. But one will discover that Ford’s ambitiousness had a price, which was his absenteeism as a father and husband. While in Washington, he spent as many as 280 days each year on the road, which was hard on his wife, Betty, and on their four children. There was never talk of separation or divorce, for Jerry and Betty truly loved one another. Yet taking the work out of the workaholic proved difficult, if not impossible.
Learn more about Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party.

--Marshal Zeringue