Editorial: Gerald Ford: the Necessary President

His White House tenure was brief — completing the second term of the disgraced Richard Nixon — and he failed by the narrowest of margins towin election on his own in 1976. His biggest decision was pardoning Nixon; most of the rest of his time in office was spent on embarrassments such as the Whip Inflation Now effort. Still, Gerald Ford, who died late Tuesday at 93, was the Necessary President.

History has repaid his essential kindliness by writing a kind chapter about his public service. He was both more substantive (and athletic) than all the comedy sketches of his pratfalls indicated. His clumsy comment in a televised debate that Eastern Europe was not dominated by the Soviet Union — together with The Pardon — may have cost him the election to Jimmy Carter. We like to think he meant the spirit of Eastern Europeans was indomitable even through their long oppression by Moscow, and in that observation he was prescient.

If he needed an internal editor, that would not have been enough for two unstable, gun-wielding Americans — one in Sacramento, the other here in San Francisco — who wanted him dead. He brushed off the assassination attempts with panache, going forward into the life of a model former president, never criticizing his successors, never trying to interfere with their conduct of foreign affairs.

America was torn apart by a decade of conflict over Vietnam, civil rights, the Great Society, Soviet military buildups, raging inflation, Spiro Agnew and Watergate. Ford’s healing task was thus monumental, perhaps even impossible. Yet he soothed the nation in his own awkward way just long enough for the heated passions of his era to cool so a hurting nation could move on. For that, America says thank you, Gerry Ford, and Godspeed.

Get ready for higher bridge tolls

If you motor into The City, or cross other bridges around the Bay Area, you’ve probably seen the notices on those big, electronic information boards. As of Jan. 1, tolls on the Bay Bridge will increase from $3 to $4. Outbound drivers will be nicked another buck onother local bridges. (FasTrak drivers get a month’s reprieve.)

If you’re a daily commuter, the new tolls can add significant sums to your monthly budget, and for that you may be inclined to gripe at Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who, authorizing the new tolls, resisted appeals to spread the mounting costs of all those upgrades to taxpayers throughout the state.

We can’t fault him. User fees do constitute the fairest means of financing public services. Indeed, we would entertain the prospect of implementing congestion pricing — higher tolls during the higher traffic hours — in order regulate traffic flows better. Inasmuch as incomprehensible metering decisions seem to have the opposite effect, something needs to be done.

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