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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, December 28, 2006

Ford left legacy with vision for Pacific

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The late Gerald R. Ford, 38th president of the United States, served less than three years but left a considerable legacy in that brief time.

Historians frequently have remarked on Ford because of an electoral quirk: He is the only person to have served as the country's chief executive without being voted in either as president or vice president.

This occurrence was due to the turbulence of the time. In the swirl of the Watergate scandal, a vice president and then a president resigned, leaving a nation still at war, in political upheaval and an unelected president in the Oval Office.

The decision to pardon Richard Nixon earned Ford nothing but criticism at the time, while emotions still ran high. It surely cost him election to a full presidential term, although later the move was seen as essential in the healing of the country.

Months previously, he had made a visit to Hawai'i coinciding with the 34th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor but failed to captivate enough of the Isle electorate in what turned out to be a decisive contest. Voters also may have felt concerned about Ford's energy policies that, they feared, would unfairly raise fuel prices in the Islands.

Jimmy Carter won a razor-thin victory here, the last time the state held such influence in a presidential race.

But with the passage of time we have better appreciated what Ford was able to accomplish, for Hawai'i specifically as well as for the nation.

Ford became only the seventh U.S. president to visit the 50th state, in 1975, in the course of an Asian tour. In addition to the Pearl Harbor observance, the president's stopover gained significance with the unveiling of a new "Pacific Doctrine," aimed at recognizing the rights of Asian nations to determine their own destinies, free from outside interference. It was undoubtedly guided by a desire to chart a new foreign-policy course after the long, painful and bloody experience of the Vietnam War.

That speech, delivered at the East-West Center, was the first acknowledgement of the U.S. as a Pacific nation, with Hawai'i as its anchor. Presidential policies governing the region remain in a state of flux, but the focus Ford placed on Asia and the Pacific remains sharp, decades later.

Hawai'i remembers President Ford for this vision, and the nation honors the life and service of a good American.