September 18, 1981
Mr. President -- President Lopez Portillo of Mexico, our good neighbor to the south -- Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada, our good neighbor to the north -- President Giscard d'Estaing of France, 0ur good neighbor across the Atlantic Foreign Minister Sonoda of Japan, our good neighbor across the Pacific --distinguished guests, and all of my good neighbors from Grand Rapids, Michigan and beyond.
They say you can't go home again -- they're wrong!
It is not uncommon for a man of my age to be surrounded by so many friends and to be eulogized so eloquently. What is most unusual -- and I must say most enjoyable -- is to be here in person to hear it.
Old soldiers may just fade away, but politicians will always respond to one more curtain call. It is not just the applause we love -- it is the sense of communion of shared interests and ideals, of serving a purpose larger than ourselves -- it is the comfort of being among friends.
The high point of my life, next to meeting and marrying Betty, was not making Eagle Scout, or being named all-state center from South High, or earning my varsity M at the University of Michigan, or getting my sheepskin from Yale Law School, or winning my first election to Congress, or serving as the 38th President of the United States. They seemed so at the time, but the high point is always ahead, and today it is here, in my home town, among my dear friends. This building is made of steel and concrete -- but this moment is made of love.
As I look back over the lessons of the years, it has been my experience that if you want to get to where you are going -- you cannot spend too much of your time contemplating where you have already been.
All those Saturdays I spent in the Michigan line, looking at the world backwards and upside down, taught me this: the world looks a lot better head-on and straight ahead.
Yet, there are times for looking back, I'm thinking, in particular, of Election Day, 1976. Some of you may remember, I voted early -- I'll let you guess for whom -- and before heading back to Washington, we unveiled Paul Collins' mural at Kent County Airport. There was my whole life spread out before me -- my dear mother and father, my brothers, the happy scenes of my boyhood here. I was physically drained and emotionally full. I knew it was going to be a close election. We had come from 30 points behind in the polls to just about even. We were hopeful, but still, the thought seized my mind that I might be nearing the end of a full career.
Well, nearly five years have passed, and I have never been busier or happier. I've been to places I've always wanted to see. I've talked with thousands of people. I've played a little golf with you know who -- and I've had time to reflect.
I have worked to bring this museum and the Ford Library at Ann Arbor to completion. Now I am working on a foundation that will help students and scholars from all over the world to work with the original documents and mementoes of my career in the Congress, the Vice-Presidency and in the White House. Here they can examine in specific detail how our constitution works, why our great republic is a government of laws and not of men, and discover for themselves that here the people rule.
This magnificent structure beside the Grand River shares with other presidential archives and memorials a common purpose and utility, though their contents, like the men they honor, are very different. Unlike the pyramids, their function is not to deify the dead but rather to distill from the past the essence of experience that may illuminate the dim path into the future.
The past can instruct the present not only in the art of leadership but also in the opportunities of citizenship. Since the days of Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln it has been a tenet of American faith that every native son could grow up to be President. But the ideals of their generations had to be forged into the realities of ours -- and so, through the years we have moved slowly, but surely, to erase every spurious bar to high public office whether it be region, religion, race or sex.
I would not b surprised -- I would be glad -- if in this century it can be said that every American boy or girl can grow up to be president of the United States.
Within these walls you will find clues to some of the convictions I hold, which explain the policies I set and the decisions I made. There are souvenirs and beautiful state gifts from my official visits to our good neighbor Mexico, whose president honors us today, and with his family, joined Betty and me at a private dinner in the White House. Journeys to Europe and Asia including, Mr. Foreign Minister, the historic first exchange of visits by an American President and the Emperor of Japan,
One of my regrets is that I never got -to Canada while I was in the White House, but I did have a number of constructive meetings with Prime Minister Trudeau in Washington, Brussels, Helsinki and Puerto Rico -- and a couple of winters ago we had a memorable reunion on the ski slopes at Vail, where I showed him the superb upside-down landing techniques I learned in the Laurentians forty years ago.
I am also sorry I was never able to visit metropolitan France, but recall a delightful meeting on the sunny isle of Martinique. Defying protocol, president Giscard d'Estaing and I immediately jumped into a swimming pool, outdistanced our foreign ministers and did more for Franco-American friendship than had been done since -the last time Ben Franklin saw Paris.
Curious citizens and future historians may ask: Why, with his desk piled high with domestic difficulties, did Jerry Ford spend so much time traveling a quarter of a million miles to NATO meetings, European security conferences, economic summit sessions and SALT talks? Why did he crowd his White House calendar with calls from foreign leaders? Why spend most of his first hectic day as President seeing nearly every ambassador in Washington?
The answer to these questions is here in the Ford Museum. It helps to go back to the summer of 19l40. Europe was in flames; one by one our traditional friends were being smashed by Hitler's stukas and panzers. I had one more year to go at Yale. In whatever time I could spare, I flung myself into Wendell Willkie's campaign, even though he had beaten Michigan's hero, Senator Arthur Vandenberg of Grand Rapids, for the Republican nomination.
Why Willkie? Vandenberg was an ardent isolationist, so was Grand Rapids in those days, and so was I. But what I admired about Willkie was his freedom from machine politics and his fighting spirit.
When I came home from -the Navy after World War II it was plain to me that the free nations would have to stick together, as they had in war, to preserve and protect the peace we had so dearly won. My political mentor, Senator Vandenberg, had abandoned isolationism and so had I. In fact, Arthur Vandenberg had become the chief Republican champion of international cooperation. He strongly supported President Truman on the Marshall Plan and the North Atlantic Alliance.
More significantly, from my point of view, Senator Vandenberg quietly encouraged me to challenge the veteran Republican Congressman from this district who was a pillar of the isolationist sentiment in the House of Representatives. Thanks to the efforts of so many of you here today, I won. And for 25 years, whether the administration was Republican or Democratic, I worked to keep the United States strong and the free nations united.
I saw the democracies of Western Europe, the Americas and the Pacific rise to new levels of productivity and prosperity for their peoples. I witnessed the growing effectiveness of NATO, and of other allies on the frontiers of freedom, and I know that only through these common undertakings have we escaped global war for more than a generation. As President, I gave the nurturing of such partnerships for mutual security my very highest priority.
So it is deeply gratifying to me that this dedication is more than a local or even a national event. To have such distinguished friends as President Lopez Portillo of Mexico, Prime Minister Trudeau, former President Giscard d'Estaing, Foreign Minister Sonoda is not only a warm and gratefully received gesture to our friendship, but also a renewed expression of confidence in the United States as a reliable ally under the strong leadership of President Reagan.
As long as the Lord permits, I will continue to advocate closer cooperation among the free nations, a greater sharing of the benefits and burdens of preserving the peace. Yet I perceive a revival of isolationism in today's world, spreading like the elusive fruit fly, under whatever guise, the new isolationism -- like the old represents a futile dream of going it alone.
The new isolationism springs from natural impulses and national traditions. as did earlier waves of American isolationism . The Nazis did not invent the old isolationism, but they counted on it to divide the defenders of freedom, neither have the Communists contrived the new isolationism, but they are cheering it on. It feeds on the fear that the United States has lost its power, or its resolution, that it is rapacious and reckless and unreliable. If ever there was belief in such alarms, you, Mr. President, strengthened with the emphatic mandate given you by the American people, have dispelled such notions. Today the United States is surely rebuilding its capability and its credibility.
As I said in my farewell message to the Congress, to be first in peace, we can never be second in defense. But military and material strength alone -- and this is the surest lesson the past can teach the present -- even the awesome might of this great and good land will not prevail if we fail to stand united in purpose and perseverance. If ever freedom falls, it will fall one isolated citadel at a time.
I do not believe for a moment that the fall of freedom is imminent, yet remembering the summer of 1940, we should take warning in time. And I for one, would rather the leaders of tomorrow learned these lessons from the Ford Museum, than on the beaches of the Pacific and Normandy.
It is my hope, and Betty's, that all our good friends who have helped to complete this magnificent structure, and fill it with a portion of America's past, will not regard this day as an end but rather as a beginning.
The unfinished work of this world is always more than that which has been accomplished. While we can never do all we might wish, we must always do what we can. I am profoundly grateful for the kind words that have been said about me, but the finest tribute of all will be to see the Gerald R. Ford Museum living and growing in constructive and useful ways.
Shortly after assuming the office of President, I said.
"The world is not a lonely place, there is light and life and love enough for us all."
I continue to believe that -- and I thank all of you here today for giving me more than my share.
Thank you and God bless you all.