Monday, June 20, 2011

Ford vs. Adams

Gerald Ford
38th President of the United States
Served: 1974-1977
Ages in office: 62-65

PROS: Surprisingly athletic — So, Ford had a helluva football career at the University of Michigan. And mind you, this was back in the day when the Wolverines could actually play football. As was the custom in the 1930s, Ford played both offense and defense, and starred in both. He led Michigan to a pair of undefeated seasons (and national titles) in 1932 and 1933, which is not too shabby, really.
Also, he looked like this, which is similarly lacking in shab.
Ford was offered contracts by both the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions after he graduated, but he turned both down to attend law school. Ford's athletic career didn't end, though, as he decided that as a little side project while studying law, he would also coach the boxing and football teams (the latter as an assistant, but still). For some reason, Yale didn't think this was the best idea, and Ford was actually rejected in his initial application. But Ford would not be denied, and eventually graduated in the top 25% of his law school class.

He kept up his coaching while in the Navy during World War II. He spent a year as a Preflight School Instructor, where in addition to teaching subjects such as seamanship, artillery, and first air, he also coached all nine of the athletic programs offered.

Now, you could argue that all of this athletic glory occurred some forty years before Ford ascended to the presidency, and you'd be technically right. However, we would argue that this experience was invaluable, because as it happens, Ford was also...

Hard to kill — We mentioned that Ford served in the Navy in WWII, right? Well, not all of that time was spent stateside in teaching jobs. Ford was eventually assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Monterey, which saw constant action from 1943-44, though she was never touched by enemy fire. What did touch her? Well, there was this typhoon.
"Typhoon" is just another word for "Oh, f***"
Sailing as part of the Third Fleet, The Monterey was hit by a typhoon in mid-December, 1944. This particular typhoon was a beast, as the fleet lost three destroyers and around 800 men to its power. At one point, Ford was headed to his station on the ship's bridge when a swell hit the ship, causing it to pitch violently, sending Ford skidding towards the edge of the deck. Ford kept his cool, and managed to slow himself enough that, when he reached the edge of the deck, instead of plummeting into the Pacific Ocean, he did a little roll and slid into a catwalk below the deck. Pretty badass, if you ask us.

As President, Ford was similarly untouchable. This proved handy in September of 1975, when Ford came under fire (kinda) twice in the span of three weeks. The first attempt on his life took place on the 5th, when a Charles Manson devotee named Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme pointed a .45 caliber handgun at Ford and tried to pull the trigger. Bad news for Fromme; she was standing right next to a Secret Service agent, who grabbed the gun and managed to mash his finger between the hammer and the pin, preventing the gun from firing. Okay, so it turned out that the gun was loaded, but not chambered, meaning that it wouldn't have fired anyway. Not that the whole event didn't freak people out, a bit.
Fun fact: at her trial, Fromme threw an apple at the judge's face, knocking his glasses off. Oh, Squeaky Fromme. You're simultaneously the worst, AND the best.
Seventeen days later, Sara Jane Moore stood in a crowd waiting for Ford to emerge from a San Francisco hotel. Also, she had a .38-caliper revolver in her hand. This gun actually wasn't Moore's weapon of choice. The day before, she had been arrested on an illegal firearms charge, and had been forced to give up her gun to the San Francisco police. While she did manage to get her hands on another gun, what she didn't realize was that the sights were a bit off, and that any shots she would be firing at the distance she stood from Ford would be off by about six inches. So, Moore shot, and missed Ford's head by... six inches. Further bad news for Moore; she was standing right next to an ex-Marine, who managed to deflect her shooting arm before she could fire another shot.

The motives for both would-be assassins? Well, they essentially boiled down to the fact that they were both crazy-pants. Still, Ford managed to survive them, and World War II, and he lived to be 93, making him the longest-lived U.S. President. He's not going down like some punk in a steel cage match, we can tell you that much.

CONS: Managed to sabotage his presidency with a single decision — So, we should mention that Ford, unlike the rest of his real-life Presidential peers, was never elected to an executive office. See, after spending nearly a quarter-century in the U.S. House of Representatives, Ford had risen to the position of House Minority Leader by the time the Watergate scandal broke out. By 1973, it was increasingly clear that President Nixon's was not going to last his full second term, and Republican strategists faced a bit of a conundrum. Sure, they would normally just wait for Nixon's inevitable downfall and then swear in the sitting Veep, but there was a hitch in that plan. Vice President Spiro Agnew had already resigned, under an entirely different scandal, and the Vice President's chair was open. If something happened to Nixon, the presidency would potentially wind up in the hands of a Democrat.
"Wait, it would go to who? Aw, crap."
So, the party gave Nixon a choice: Ford, or Ford. Nixon wisely chose Ford, and the former football star became Vice President just in time for Nixon to bail, whereupon, voila! President Ford. Ford took the oath of office August 9, 1974. A month later, he made a televised address to the nation, saying that he was offering some conditional pardons to hippies who had fled to Canada in lieu of being drafted. Oh, and he was also completely pardoning Richard Nixon for any shady business that he had initiated as president. Why? Because America just needed to move ON, dammit.

Except, America wasn't entirely convinced things were on the up-and-up. What America saw was a crooked politician escaping ahead of the mob, hand-picking his successor, then having said successor get him completely off the hook. Ford's popularity plummeted, and never really recovered. While no concrete evidence ever emerged that the pardon was the result of a quid quo pro arrangement, America decided that if they couldn't have Nixon's blood, by God, they'd get someone. As a result, Ford only narrowly survived a primary challenge by some actor-turned-governor in the 1976 presidential race. Once he went on to the general election, Ford lost to... Jimmy Carter? Yeeeesh. So, let's be clear, when this guy made bad decisions, he made really bad decisions. Not good for an Arena combatant.

Not the sharpest knife in the drawer — So, LBJ had a little saying about Ford. As Ford was a key congressman during Johnson's presidency, the foul-mouthed Texan often found cause to gripe about the dumb jock from Michigan. His favorite gripe? "Ford's so dumb, he can't walk and chew gum at the same time." Actually, no, that was the press's favorite gripe. What Johnson actually said was that "Jerry Ford is so dumb, he can't fart and chew gum at the same time."

Johnson wasn't the only one to pick up on this. Chevy Chase's impersonation of Ford on Saturday Night Live often centered around Ford's supposed bumbling, slow-witted nature. And while Ford usually kept it together in public, he managed a major slip up during a debate with Jimmy Carter, when he said, "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford Administration." Which was nice, except for the fact that the Soviets had dominated Eastern Europe for... oh, about thirty years at that point. Ford followed that up by delving into the psyche of Poland, when he declared the he did not believe that the Poles, Romanians, or Yugoslavians "consider[ed] themselves dominated by the Soviet Union."
You know you've fubared when the guy asking the questions at your debate can't help from pulling a "Seriously?" face.
So, yeah, look. Ford was a hell of an athlete. And he had some rather tricky waters to navigate while president. But that right there? That is not the kind of on-your-feet thinking that will serve you well in the Arena.

John Adams
2nd President of the United States
Served: 1797-1801
Ages in office: 61-65

PROS: Was always fighting something — No matter how unpopular any of his causes were, he had a long history of fighting as hard as possible, no matter what the cost. And you know what? He had a pretty decent record of winning these fights as well.

As a lawyer, he was hired to defend the British soldiers who opened fire and killed five unarmed civilians on the streets of Boston one March evening in 1770. Defending the British in Boston in 1770 was about as popular walking around in a Derek Jeter jersey in Boston today. But he took the job, as unpopular as it was, because you know what? People shouldn’t throw rocks and ice chunks at people with rifles, daring them to shoot back. Because they might shoot back.

Just a few years later, he was one of the first people to suggest that maybe the colonies should declare independence from England. This idea wasn’t met with the greatest of enthusiasm, but he debated tirelessly for it, and he eventually won everyone over.
I guess you can say that if it wasn’t for him, we’d all be speaking English right now. Wait, no. That doesn’t make sense.

And then, as president, he stood up to the French in the Quasi War. “Hey, thanks for the aid during our revolution, but that was the Kingdom of France, you guys are the Republic of France. We don’t owe you guys anything. What’s that? You’re going to attack our trading vessels? Okay, we’ll revive our Navy and take care of this.” 
I guess you can say that if it wasn’t for him, we’d all be speaking French right now. It wouldn't be true, but go ahead and say it anyway.

Maybe some of his fights were unpopular because they were bad ideas, like the Alien and Sedition Acts, which critics say was just a way to silence critics. As hurtful to his political career as it was, he fought for it.

Dude doesn’t care. He’s up for a fight.

Good at avoiding death — Adams lived to be 90 years old. He actually died on the same day as Thomas Jefferson, which also happened to be the 50th anniversary of the ratification of the Declaration of Independence, which is kind of a crazy coincidence, but besides the point.

Back to the 90 thing, yeah, he lived to 90. Living to see 90 today is a pretty sizable achievement. Imagine doing it in a time when you could hear doctors say, “Oh, you’re sick? Let me cut your arm and bleed the disease out of you.” He died the year before Joseph Lister — the guy who suggested that maybe surgeons should use clean instruments — was even born.

It’s not like he had that much of an easy life, either. The guy was president, and that was a stressful job. Other stressful jobs include “Guy who defended those British soldiers who killed Boston civilians” and “Guy who would have been one of the first sent to the gallows if we hadn’t won the war for independence.” All that stress, yet it didn’t seem to shorten his life any. Or maybe it did, and he was supposed to live to be 130.

The Arena is shouldn’t be too much of a problem for Adams. He’s been through the wringer and got through just fine.

CONS: His Rotundity — In his first year of being vice president, he was insistent upon the idea that the President of the United States be given a more grandiose title. He favored titles like “His Majesty the President.” Members of Congress disagreed. We had just rebelled against a king, why treat our president like a king?

In response, certain members of Congress dubbed Adams “His Rotundity.” I may be reading way into this, but I’m getting two things from this:

1) He was overweight. Not just a little pudgy, but full-fledged overweight. Maybe not Taft-Cleveland-McKinley proportions, but still probably not in good enough shape to fight very well.

2) Even well into his 50s, he was subjected to schoolyard-esque teasing. To me, that says that he doesn’t have that long of a history of quashing such childish insults.
The esteemed senator from South Carolina proposes to launch an exploratory inquiry
as to why the vice president keeps hitting himself.
 I bet no one called Theodore Roosevelt “His Rotundity” twice.

He probably wants to lose — Adams always came off as one of those martyr types. He always bemoaned the idea of his role in the American Revolution will be forgotten. He's slightly more popular now because of David McCullough's biography and the HBO miniseries based on it starring the guy who played Pig Vomit in Private Parts.
I could see him blowing this fight just because he thought that not enough people wanted him to win. He would go on believing that he deserved to win and that would be enough for him. He would take solace knowing that years from now, everyone will look back and realize that they were wrong for not giving Adams enough credit.

And I bet that kind of attitude does nothing but further anger his opponent.

The Fight
Doug: Okay, Adams doesn't have the athletic game, though both of their bodies are tough. Let's remember that though Ford lived to be 93, Adams lived to be 90. The difference here is 180 years of medical improvements, which Adams didn't need to reach 90.

Tony: Sure, Ford and Adams both lived long lives. And sure, modern medical technology probably has something to do with that for Ford. But you shouldn't overlook the luck factor. Seems to me, Adams didn't have people gunning for him his entire life. Like, literally gunning for him, not just talking smack behind his back.

Doug: Ford sounds like he could be outsmarted if he were fighting an intelligent enough person. Luckily, Adams was a Harvard grad and one of the brightest legal minds of his time. These are not the circumstances Adams is used to, but he isn't one to give up a fight just because the deck is stacked against him.

Tony: This is the thing with Adams: he's all brains, no brawn. Ford, meanwhile, is all brawn and... well, let's just say the man was on the Warren Commission and signed off on the Magic Bullet theory. It's the Unstoppable Force versus the Immovable Object!

Doug: Adams knows that Ford should have never become president, thus he has no place in the Presidential Gladiatorial Arena. By pardoning Nixon, he made a mockery of the office. Adams is, once again, going to do what he thinks is right. He'll do everything in his power to get rid of Ford.

Tony: Look, it's not like Ford swindled his way into office, or anything. If he had gotten to the presidency straight from the House Minority Leader's position, then you might have an argument for that, as I'm relatively certain that post is not part of the Presidential Line of Succession. But he was confirmed as Vice President before Nixon resigned, so whatcha gonna do?

Doug: True, Adams wasn't much of a physical fighter. But he knows that this is the Arena. He knows that he won't be able to get a win through sound legal arguments. He needs to take some of that fire within and use it, physically. The best way of doing this is to get him angry. And nothing would anger the insufferable elitist more than news of some former model and dumb jock who wasn't even elected by the nation got to be president. You think Adams risked neck by signing the Declaration of Independence so that someone like Gerald Ford would eventually be put in the same category as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson?

Tony: I like how it's somehow Ford's fault that he became president. I mean, what the hell was he supposed to do, say "no" when Nixon resigned? Also, you would think that someone harboring so much resentment over how Ford became president would maybe think about that sort of scenario when, I don't know, he was fathering the country. Maybe they should have rigged it so that the moment the presidency was vacated, new elections had to be held! Oh, wait! That's what they do in Britain! And Canada. And other parliamentary systems. Huh. Adams and the other founding fathers eventually figured out that the American system didn't involve bringing the government to a halt every two years. If he can't handle the consequences, that's too damn bad.

Doug: Normally in this case, Adams would calm himself down by writing a letter to his wife, Abigail, and relaxing with a beer. No quill pens to be found. Ditto for ale. His only choice, right now, is to think on his feet for the best way of defeating this bumbling idiot charging him at full steam ahead. Adams will probably start by taking a single step to one side and sticking his foot out by tripping him.

Tony: You admit right off the bat that Adams isn't much of a fighter. So how is he going to win a fight? He's going to trip Ford? Come on. Ford wasn't tripped up by a freaking typhoon-powered storm surge, and he's not going to be tripped up by some irritable law nerd.
Doug: Adams was an irritable law nerd. Okay, I can't really dispute that. He got that way from being prepared for anything that might be heading his way.

Ford, on the other hand, reportedly showed up to his own wedding wearing two different colored shoes. No, he wasn't trying to rock the Punky Brewster look 40-something years early. He was just nervous and his usual absent-minded Ford self.
He was trying to summon up Punky Power, which was not to be discovered until 1984.
No, I'm not arguing that having mismatched shoes spells certain doom in the Arena. I'm just saying, this is a poor indication that he's going to show up prepared. Say what you will about Adams, he will be prepared to do anything in his power to win.

Tony: Hey, good for Adams for being Mr. Prepared and all, but I don't see how he's going to fit a lifetime of physical and martial training in before getting shoved into the Arena to face Ford. It's going to be more "punches are things that people do, right?" and then he's going to get clobbered.

See, here's the thing: you're noticing that Ford was occasionally absent-minded. Perfectly true. However, his propensity for screwing up grows in proportion to the amount he has to think. How much does he need that ability in a one-on-one death match? Less than anyone thinks, I would guess. It's going to come down to physical ability, and unfortunately for Adams, his opponent? Is built...


Ford tough.

Ford vs. Adams


  1. I'm seriously torn this week. Although I think Adams is obviously a better President, that doesn't necessarily translate into success in the arena. And even though Ford was once a football star, I think we can all agree that by the time he reached office no one in their right mind would describe him as studly, although I suppose he was probably in better shape than Adams.

    I guess my vote will come down to this: what is the composition of The Arena? Is it indoors? Outside? Is it a completely clean, flat surface with no ropes or furniture or is it a more natural terrain, containing dirt, trees, rocks, or any sort of an incline? If the arena is just an empty room, my money's on Ford; however, if there is anything Gerry can trip over, I'm going to have to go with His Rotundity.

    Perhaps I'm over thinking this. Maybe I should just make this decision how I make most major decisions in my life and do what Mr. Feeny would do:

    (Yes, this is the second week in a row that I’m using a presidential musical to help guide my choice. Really though, the bracket set me up for this.)

  2. Though we've never discussed the physical layout of the Arena, we did note that it was empty. No weapons or any other objects to be found. We've never really described it beyond that and left it to the imagination of the readers. I've always imagined it with a dirt floor, but that's a detail that has never been formally established.

    Maybe we should have a contest where readers submit their ideas of what the Arena looks like. That's a thought for another time.

    Hope this helps!

  3. That does help. If there is a dirt floor, then I'm betting Adams will blind Ford by tossing dirt into his eyes and then use that to his advantage. I'm going for Adams this week.

    The contest is a great idea! I have such an epic mental image of The Arena, I'd like to know what others are imagining.

  4. I call this a draw as both men would probably end up disqualifying themselves. Adams boycotting the event objecting that Ford is not a "real President" (all the actual "fake" presidents represented in the tournament not-withstanding) then Ford never even showing up to the due to his inability to both accept the invite and to physically find the entrance to the arena.

  5. Whoa, dudes. Did you just insult the U of M Wolverines? Best be cautious you don't run into Ford or me in an empty arena with a dirt floor...

  6. Shall we revisit the magical time that the Wolverines lost to Appalachian State, at home? Yes, yes, I think so.