To be truthful, I never thought too much about Betty Ford during her time as First Lady and the years after that. I knew, of course, of her fight against breast cancer and her subsequent battles to rid herself of the twin problems of prescription drug addiction and alcoholism.
Now with her death on July 8, she’s very much in my thoughts.
Here was the woman who in the 1970s, more than 30 years ago, not only bared her soul about her personal issues (a rarity in those days to be so frank), but to speak out repeatedly on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment and to march in parades with Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinem, two of the most renowned feminists of the day. And, horrors upon Republican horrors, she also endorsed abortion rights.
What is remarkable in retrospect is that she did this as the wife of Gerald Ford, a conservative Republican fromGrand Rapids,Michigan, who would later become Speaker of the House of Representatives and President of theUnited Statesfor two-and-one-half years.
Can you imagine a prominent Republican in the year 2011 even hinting that he or she might support abortion rights or such a “radical” idea as the Equal Rights Amendment.
Betty Ford, however, was not alone among Republicans who supported such progressive ideas in the decades before Ronald Reagan. As examples, there were Republican Senators like Wayne Morse ofOregonwho was an early leader in opposing the war in Vietnam and like Clifford Case of New Jersey and Jacob Javits of New York who could be counted upon to support organized labor. InWisconsin, perhaps as a holdover from the progressive politics of the La Follettes, there were always a handful of Republican legislators who voted to support labor.
Betty Ford’s death at age 93 prompted me to wonder: what has happened to the Grand Old Party (GOP)?
It seemed in those earlier generation Republicans there was a greater sense of community, a greater responsibility to the common good and more civility than among the current crop of leaders. (Witness Boehner, Kantor and McConnell.) There is a rigidity of thinking that has permeated the GOP mindset, making it almost impossible for one to stray from the mantra of no tax increases, government spending cuts, anti-abortion laws and gay rights restrictions.
Virtually every prominent Republican now rejects Betty Ford’s views on such matters as the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion rights.
I wonder what Betty Ford thought in her last days about the Republicans in the 21st Century. It’s hard to imagine that she liked what she saw. – Ken Germanson, July 9, 2011