On the death of Gerald Ford, it is tempting to remark that his presidency was a transient moment of little historic significance save for the pardon of President Nixon and, conceivably, the signing of the Helsinki Final Act. There was the brief, but doomed, fight to sustain a policy of providing military aid to the free Vietnamese forces the Democrats in Congress were determined, after their gains in 1974, to abandon. And there was the drama of the Mayaguez. But there was also his wan economic policies, captured in the slogan Whip Inflation Now. And a general sense that Ford somehow, in the great showdown with the Soviet Union, just didn't quite comprehend the deep tides and allowed himself to get out maneuvered in debate by Jimmy Carter.
Yet, if one takes the long view, Ford emerges in a different light, if not as a large figure, at least as a part, even a tribune, of a great shift in the Republican Party. This was the move away from the isolationism of the years that preceded World War II. The move began when Wendell Willkie challenged the incumbent Roosevelt to take seriously the threat posed to democracy by the European war. After the war, Senator Vandenberg of Michigan acceded on the foreign relations committee and helped swing the Senate behind the Marshall Plan with the famous principle that America's voice had to "unite at the water's edge." Vandenberg, a Republican from Grand Rapids, inspired Ford, fresh from the Navy and before that Yale Law School, in the run for Congress that began his own long rise.