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A biography that reflects its subject

Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party: A Political Biography of Gerald R. Ford - Scott Barry Kaufman

Gerald Ford is unique among presidents for a number of reasons, but perhaps most so for the circumstances of his presidency. Alone among the forty-four people who have held the office he was never on a national ballot prior to occupying the office, as he owed his elevation to the presidency to the provisions of the 25th Amendment. Defeated in his own bid for the office in 1976, he had remained an anomaly every since, overshadowed by the more dramatic tenures of those who preceded and followed him.


This helps to explain why there have been so few biographies written about Ford. In his introduction Scott Kaufman identifies three, all of which suffered from a variety of limitations, In this respect Kaufman's book is the first to do full justice to the span of Ford's long life, assessing it with access to his records and benefiting from the perspectives of time. It's a solid study that is written in an unpretentious style and reflects considerable archival labors, which makes it in many respects a mirror to its subject. Kaufman tinges his analysis with nostalgia, noting that while Ford was an ambitious politician who remained a devoted party man, he often worked with his Democratic opponents to achieve balance on the issues before them. He makes it clear that his career ambition was to be speaker of the House of Representatives rather than president, a goal that he regretted not achieving even after occupying a much more consequential office.


In that respect Ford's career is infused with the irony of being the rare politician who achieved a higher position than the one for which he aimed. And while Ford's political career ended with the humiliation of defeat, it is one that receives its due in Kaufman's book. For while it may have lacked the excitement of war or the tension of constitutional crisis, Kaufman shows it was one in which a fundamentally decent man grappled with the problems with his time and worked to solve them as best as he was able. Thanks to Kaufman, readers now have the judicious assessment that Ford has long deserved and one that will likely remain the dominant work on Ford's life and career for some time to come.