The very strange and very long Gerald Ford funeral marathon was about many things, but Gerald Ford wasn't always paramount among them.
What the Ford obsequies were most about was the Beltway establishment's grim verdict on George W. Bush and his war in Iraq. Every Ford attribute, big and small, was trotted out by Washington eulogists with a wink, as an implicit rebuke of the White House's current occupant. Mr. Ford was a healer, not a partisan divider. He was an all-American football star, not a cheerleader. He didn't fritter away time on pranks at his college fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon, because he had to work his way through school as a dishwasher. He was in the top third of his class at Yale Law. He fought his way into dangerous combat service during World War II rather than accept his cushy original posting. He was pals with reporters and Democrats. He encouraged dissent in his inner circle. He had no enemies, no ego, no agenda, no ideology, no concern for his image. He described himself as "a Ford, not a Lincoln," rather than likening himself to, say, Truman.
Under the guise of not speaking ill of a dead president, the bevy of bloviators so relentlessly trashed the living incumbent that it bordered on farce. No wonder President Bush, who once hustled from Crawford to Washington to sign a bill interfering in Terri Schiavo's medical treatment, remained at his ranch last weekend rather than join Betty Ford and Dick Cheney for the state ceremony in the Capitol rotunda.
It's against the backdrop of both the Hussein video and the Ford presidency that we must examine the prospect of that much-previewed "surge" in Iraq - a surge, by the way, that the press should start calling by its rightful name, escalation. As Mr. Ford had it, America cannot regain its pride by refighting a war that is finished as far as America is concerned and, for that matter, as far as Iraq is concerned. By large margins, the citizens of both countries want us not to escalate but to start disengaging. So do America's top military commanders, who are now being cast aside just as Gen. Eric Shinseki was when he dared assert before the invasion that securing Iraq would require several hundred thousand troops.
The "surge," then, is a sham. It is not meant to achieve that undefined "victory" Mr. Bush keeps talking about but to serve his own political spin. His real mission is to float the "we're not winning, we're not losing" status quo until Jan. 20, 2009. After that, as Joseph Biden put it last week, a new president will "be the guy landing helicopters inside the Green Zone, taking people off the roof." This is nothing but a replay of the cynical Nixon-Kissinger "decent interval" exit strategy concocted to pass the political buck (to Mr. Ford, as it happened) on Vietnam.
As the White House tries to sell this flimflam, picture fresh American troops being tossed into Baghdad's caldron to work alongside the Maliki-Sadr Shiite lynch mob that presided over the Saddam hanging. Contemplate as well Gerald Ford's most famous words, spoken as he assumed the presidency after the Nixon resignation: "Our Constitution works; our great republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule."
This time the people do not rule. Two months after Americans spoke decisively on Election Day, the president is determined to overrule them. Our long national nightmare in Iraq, far from being over, is about to get a second wind.
Daddy Frank is usually right. This time, I hope he's wrong, but I fear he's not.