Thursday, October 2, 2008

Book Review: Write It When I'm Gone by Thomas DeFrank

I recently picked up Write It When I'm Gone: Remarkable Off-the-Record Conversations with Gerald R. Ford by Thomas DeFrank when I was at Costco. I'm not sure what led to this selection as I usually would glance over this type of title. I took it home and started reading and was instantly captivated. DeFrank was a young reporter for Newsweek instructed to cover Ford when he was the Vice President. He and Ford ended up developing a strong friendship over the years which led to a series of candid and revealing conversations about his own presidency and his impressions of others holding political office.

This arrangement came about when Ford let slip a statement that he would have regretted had it been made public since it pertained to the liklihood of him becoming President due to Nixon and the Watergate fiasco. He confided quite a bit to DeFrank with the understanding that he could publish none of it until Ford had died. DeFrank kept his word. While I won't spend this time summarizing the book I did find quite a bit of the information very interesting. I'll just share some of that here.

* Ford felt it was very important to pardon Nixon in order to help heal a fractured country. He felt that his reasons for doing so were often misunderstood and misinterpreted.
* Ford felt Nixon was very easily manipulated and used the Watergate situation as his prime example.
* Ford blamed Reagan for his failed Presidential bid and never truly got over that. The wounds healed somewhat when Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
* Ford stumped for Reagan so hard because he thought Carter would be worse for the country, not because he truly supported Reagan.
* Did not think Jimmy Carter was a good President. In fact, didn't really care for him as a person until well after they had left office and Carter requested Ford's help in planning his Presidential Library.
* Thought the election in 2000 would be McCain vs. Gore. He thought McCain could beat Gore, but did not think that George W. Bush would be able to beat Gore if he were the nominee.
* Ford thought the key to Bush getting elected and re-elected was that he needed to moderate his views. Thought Bush risked being seen as an "extremist" as he started veering too far right. Ford felt the same way about Cheney.
* Ford thought President Bush (Dubya) focused too much on WMD's when trying to convince the American people that war on Iraq was justified. Ford felt that telling us Sadaam was a threat should have been enough. He also felt that Bush would start losing support once the casualties reached 1,000 (at the time the book was written there were 500 dead).
* Ford thought W's best attribute was his wife. He found Laura Bush to be very smart and classy.
* Ford revealed that W planned to invade Iraq merely one week after 9/11. He supposedly called General Tommy Franks and said, "How quickly can you put together a plan to attack Iraq?"
* Truly believed that Bill Clinton was a sex addict and needed professional help.
* He found Hillary to be very smart and politically ambitious.
* Thought she would possibly run in 2004, but definitely in 2008. Ford thought she would be the Democratic nominee, but felt that she would not win and become the first woman president.
* Ford predicted that it would be Hillary and Guiliani in 2008 with Rudy pulling out the victory. Ford thought Guiliani would make a great president.
*Ford spoke little of his personal life. He did talk about how his mother was abused by his father and she took him as a baby and fled. She remarried and he had a wonderful relationship with his step-father and admired him greatly.
* A friend in law school ended up suing Ford's biological father for child support. He was put in jail until he paid.
* He was on the Warren Commission and truly believed that JFK's assassination was not part of some greater conspiracy. He was bothered by movies and theories that suggested otherwise. He was also very sensitive about rumors of a coverup on the Warren Commission. He wanted the entire report released in its entirety and he felt that would maybe help eliminate many of the conspiracy theories.
* Ford was a self-proclaimed pack rat. He kept everything. As he aged he had letters appraised. The letters from Nixon during the Watergate years were appraised at roughly 7K. The letter Sarah Jane Moore wrote him from prison basically saying she regretted not killing him was appraised at 9K.
* Believed OJ was guilty (who doesn't?)
* By all accounts he was faithful to his wife their entire married life.
* He loved Dick Cheney. He was one of his proteges.
* He poked fun at his own children, once saying that his son Jack wished to be a $250,000/year park ranger.

While the book does cover some of Ford's presidency it is more a book covering Ford The Man. It is interesting to see how someone on the inside viewed Ford both as a President and as a man. DeFrank obviously was very fond of Ford and that is clearly conveyed in his writing. However, I also think DeFrank does an adequate view of acknowledging and addressing some of Ford's flaws and not so flattering qualities.

Overall, it was an insightful book and one I would recommend. It was an easy read and not something so political that it becomes a turnoff. Ford seemed to be able to assess Presidents on their merits and not just on their political affiliations and it is interesting to hear what his opinions were both on Presidents from his party and those from the Democratic party.

Has anyone else read this book? If so, what did you think?


Nancy said...

I'm reading it right now on your recommendation. I'm only at the first interview regarding Nixon but it's all very interesting because I was in my teens when he became president. I remember it and the ensuing years but the book is putting information to the incidents I remember.

Joanne said...

Haven't read it, but it's always interesting to see politicians as everyday people, not to mention seeing an era through their lives, history in a different light. Thanks for the recommendation.

Moxymama said...

Nancy, you will have to let me know what you think of the book when you finish. I'm always interested in what others think about books I've read.
And Joanne, let me know if you end up reading it and your thoughts.

Emerald said...

I borrowed the book last night and I will start reading it this morning. Thanks again for the recommendation.

Slendarella said...

Wow - I may have to read that. Some of those points were surprising to me!