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Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s

Yanek Mieczkowski

Publication Year: 2005

History has not been kind to Gerald Ford. His name evokes an image of either America’s only unelected president, who abruptly pardoned his corrupt predecessor, or an accident-prone man who failed to provide skilled leadership to a country in domestic turmoil. In Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s, historian Yanek Mieczkowski reexamines Ford’s two and a half years in office, showing that his presidency successfully confronted the most vexing crises of the postwar era. Surveying the state of America in the 1970s, Mieczkowski focuses on the economic challenges facing the country. He argues that Ford’s understanding of the national economy was better than that of any other modern president, that Ford oversaw a dramatic reduction of inflation, and that his attempts to solve the energy crisis were based in sound economic principles. Throughout his presidency, Ford labored under the legacy of Watergate. Democrats scored landslide victories in the 1974 midterm elections, and the president engaged with a spirited opposition Congress. Within an anemic Republican Party, the right wing challenged Ford’s leadership, even as pundits predicted the death of the GOP. Yet Ford reinvigorated the party and fashioned a 1976 campaign strategy against Jimmy Carter that brought him from thirty points behind to a dead heat on election day. Mieczkowski draws on numerous personal interviews with the former president, cabinet officials, and members of the Ninety-fourth Congress. In his reassessment of this underrated president, Ford emerges as a skilled executive, an effective diplomat, and a leader with a clear vision for America’s future. Working to heal a divided nation, Ford unified the GOP and laid the groundwork for the Republican resurgence in subsequent decades. The first major work on the former president to appear in more than ten years, Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s combines the best of biography and economic, social, and presidential history to create an intriguing portrait of a president, his times, and his legacy.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

This work began in a grape vineyard overlooking Seneca Lake in Central New York. While attending graduate school in Manhattan, I returned to my hometown, Ithaca, for an early autumn weekend, along with a classmate, Mike Green. I was planning to begin my doctoral dissertation, and I knew that I wanted ...

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pp. 1-14

Think about it for a minute. Pollsters have posed this question to Americans throughout the post-World War II era. In the summer of 1974, shortly before Gerald Ford became president, three issues stood out. Respondents overwhelmingly ranked the "high cost of living" as their chief worry. Then came a pair of concerns ...

Part One: The Leadership Challenge

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Chapter 1. Hungering for Heroes

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pp. 17-37

In the mid-1970s, feeling betrayed by their president after Watergate, Americans hungered for new national heroes. They found Evel Knievel. The motorcycle stuntman wore a red, white, and blue jumpsuit; spoke openly of his love of country; denounced the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang; and urged his young ...

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Chapter 2. The Congenial Presidency

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pp. 38-55

On October 11, 1975, at 11:30 P.M., a new program debuted on television. NBC's Saturday Night (later renamed Saturday Night Live) became a hit partly because it was so different. It aired live, which infused energy and spontaneity into its antics. Unlike other television comedies, it welcomed a different guest ...

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Chapter 3. Gerald Ford and the Ninety-fourth Congress

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pp. 56-72

January 20, 1977, was Gerald Ford's last day as president. After Jimmy Carter was inaugurated, Ford and his wife, Betty, now private citizens, strode through the Capitol rotunda, walked down the building's rear steps, and boarded a helicopter to fly to Andrews Air Force Base. It was a sunny winter day in ...

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Chapter 4. Ford's Vision for America

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pp. 73-92

Gerald Ford went to college during the Great Depression. Coming from a modest, middle-class background, he faced a great challenge in simply finding the money to attend the University of Michigan. The Wolverine gridiron coach heavily recruited Ford, who captained his high school football team as a ...

Part Two: The Economic Challenge

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Chapter 5. The Great Inflation of the 1970s

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pp. 95-110

In many ways, the Fords were like the typical American family after World War II. While still single, Gerald Ford fought in the war, returned home, and resumed his career. After marrying, he moved to Washington, D.C., to embark on a new profession -- politics. Then Ford and his wife, Betty, began a family that ...

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Chapter 6. Taking Aim at Inflation

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pp. 111-119

Saturday, September 28, 1974, was a gray and rainy day in Washington, D.C. As Gerald Ford stepped out of the presidential limousine and walked inside the Hilton International Hotel, his thoughts were racing. He was about to spend a second day hosting an enormous summit conference that assembled the nation's top ...

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Chapter 7. Teetering on a Knife's Edge

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pp. 120-131

Almost every American has seen pictures of this stunning day. On August 9, 1974, Gerald and Betty Ford somberly accompanied Richard and Pat Nixon down the White House lawn, where the thirty-seventh president boarded a helicopter, flashed an incongruous victory sign, turned, and retreated to ...

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Chapter 8. Rallying the Nation to Fight Inflation

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pp. 132-144

The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is a sprawling, 51,000-square-foot building that overlooks Michigan's Grand River, which flows from the rapids that give Ford's home city its name. The museum tells the story of Ford's life, emphasizing his presidency and the 1970s, and includes full-scale mock-ups of ...

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Chapter 9. The Great Recession of the 1970s

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pp. 145-156

In the spring of 1936, Gerald Ford finished his first year on the Yale University athletic staff. The young Michigan alumnus served as an assistant to legendary football coach Ducky Pond, and he also coached the freshman boxing team (a funny role for Ford, who had never boxed before; he prepared by taking ...

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Chapter 10. Ford's 1975 State of the Union Program

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pp. 157-173

On June 20, 1975, Jaws opened. People who had worked on the film were nervous about its premiere. The film's production had been riddled with problems and complications, most notably involving "Bruce," the twenty-five-foot-long, quarter-million-dollar mechanical shark. Shooting the film was supposed to ...

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Chapter 11. Economic Initiatives, 1975-76

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pp. 174-194

Gerald Ford "was very concerned about the crime problem, which was becoming severe" in the mid-1970s, recalled presidential adviser Robert Goldwin. Between 1973 and 1974, serious crimes -- murder, rape, robbery, and assault -- jumped 17 percent, the largest increase since the FBI began recording ...

Part Three - The Energy Challenge

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Chapter 12. The Energy Crisis of the 1970s

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pp. 197-214

"You got First Mama," Betty Ford said into her citizens band (CB) radio. In 1976, the First Lady used the device to campaign for her husband, communicating with motorists as she traveled the country. Her use of a CB was so endearing that President Ford's advertising team even considered playing a song ...

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Chapter 13. A New Energy Program

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pp. 215-227

Frank Zarb was Gerald Ford's new energy czar. During his first day on the job, he decided to test the efficiency of the FEA. He ordered two items, specifying that they had to be on his desk by afternoon: a rubber stamp with his name and a Roget's Thesaurus. When he returned from lunch, a brown paper bag ...

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Chapter 14. The Energy Stalemate; Illustrations follow page 228

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pp. 228-245

The passions were reminiscent of the Civil War, only it was the 1970s. Members of the Texas legislature were fiercely debating the nation's energy crisis. One lawmaker, exasperated that the South had to endure the fifty-five-mile-per-hour speed limit due to alleged northeastern wastefulness, shouted, ...

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Chapter 15. Breaking the Energy Logjam

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pp. 246-270

Dale Bumpers was a member of the Ninety-fourth Congress's large Democratic freshman class. After serving four years as Arkansas governor, he decided to run for the U.S. Senate in 1974. He won easily and moved to Washington, but as he drove through the city's streets during the energy crisis, something ...

Part Three - Diplomatic and Political Challenges

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Chapter 16. Gerald Ford's Internationalism

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pp. 273-303

On December 18, 1944, in World War II's Pacific theater, a raging typhoon struck the light aircraft carrier USSem Monterey sailing in the Philippine Sea. Hundred-knot winds battered the ship, and it struggled to stay afloat. At one point during the storm, the Monterey's assistant navigator and athletic director, ...

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Chapter 17. Thunder from the Right

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pp. 304-324

A year and a half before the Republican primaries, the president already anticipated a challenge from his popular, charismatic party rival. It was September 1910, and William Howard Taft detected rumblings from ex-president Theodore Roosevelt, who had just returned from a long stay in Europe. ...

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Chapter 18. Back from the Brink

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pp. 325-350

During a campaign stop in 1976, when a hotel assigned President Ford its "Emperor Suite," he told his staff that he disliked the snooty title on the door. A staff member covered it with a handwritten cardboard sign reading "Jerry Ford's Room."1 At another campaign swing through Paterson, New Jersey, Matilda Durget, ...

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pp. 351-359

The task of leadership in the 1970s was trying. Speaker Carl Albert found his duties uniquely onerous compared to those of recent House leaders, because he had "a greater variety of difficult issues and situations to deal with than any past speaker. I mean Watergate, impeachment, two resignations [Agnew and Nixon], ...


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pp. 360-420


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pp. 421-433


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pp. 434-455

E-ISBN-13: 9780813172057
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813123493

Page Count: 480
Publication Year: 2005