In Betty Ford Tribute, E.J. Dionne Claims Her Socially Liberal Statements Helped Gerald Ford... Win?

It's a laudable thing to mourn the loss of First Lady Betty Ford, but on Monday's Washington Post op-ed page, Post columnist E.J. Dionne is so kind he argued against reality. He praised Betty Ford for telling an interviewer that it would be no big deal if her 18-year-old were having an affair and neither was youthful exploration of marijuana.

Dionne claimed: "That can drive political consultants crazy, but in Betty Ford’s case, it had a positive effect on the country and, I’d argue, on her husband’s political prospects." Dionne can't have forgotten the actual 1976 election results? He didn't really have "prospects" after that.

Dionne's probably saying it wouldn't have been as "tick tight" a win for Jimmy Carter if the Fords weren't such social liberals. But it allowed a lot of conservative Christians to feel that Carter was the better "traditional values" pick. Dionne claimed the Fords weren't about being polarizing. This is somehow what liberals say when Republicans polarize themselves away from the conservatives and embrace the Left. 

Dionne left out the part on "60 Minutes" where Mrs. Ford said "I feel very strongly that it was the best thing in the world when the Supreme Court voted to legalize abortion and in my words, bring it out of the back woods and put it into the hospital where it belongs." How this isn't polarizing is beyond most:

What’s especially important, I think, is to realize how much Betty Ford (and, again, her husband) cut against the grain of politicizing everything for the purpose of polarizing the electorate to produce a majority on your side when Election Day arrived. Advisers to Richard Nixon used to call this process “positive polarization.”

The tactic can work, but it has high costs. It can produce a sullenly divided country. And it encourages public cynicism about every pronouncement made by a first lady and a president. Everything they say comes to be judged by its political impact. Both Betty and Gerald Ford rejected “positive polarization.” And Betty Ford seemed incapable of calculating every word she said.

Anyone in politics can find it "refreshing" when the president's wife of the opposing party embraces your point of view with "candor."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis