Funky President: Gerald Ford & James Brown

In a strange way, it is perhaps somewhat fitting that James Brown and Gerald Ford died within a day of each other, since Brown and Ford had a unique bond. As Brian Koller notes in his ePinions review of the James Brown compilation CD Disc Four: Godfather of Soul (1972-1984), "James Brown was probably the only person who thought that Gerald Ford was funky."

Koller is referring to Brown's 1974 hit, "Funky President (People It's Bad)".

People people, we gotta get over before we go under

Hey country, didn't say what you meant Just changed -- brand new funky president

. It is, to the best of my knowledge, the only hit song ever to reference Ford's ascension to the Oval Office following Nixon's fleeing D.C. one step ahead of the law.

Of course, Nixon is the other thing Ford and Brown had in common. Without Nixon, Ford would have rated a three paragraph obituary everywhere except Michigan. He would have been remembered as a go-along-to-get-along kind of congressman. A steady member of the Washington establishment, whose brightest moment in the national spotlight was serving on the Warren Commission. Nixon and his need to find a replacement for his first vice president, Spiro Agnew, who was forced to resign when his criminal activities were exposed, changed all that.

James Brown, on the other hand, had less happy results from his association with Nixon. He was widely criticized by fans for performing at Nixon's 1969 inaugural. And following his public endorsement of Nixon's reelection in 1972, protestors showed up at Brown's concerts with "James Brown - Nixon's Clown" signs.

In time, of course, Brown's genius eclipsed all that unpleasantness. His legacy is Nixon-free, loud and proud.

Ford's legacy, however, is bound to Nixon. While it is a standard assertion in the thumbnail sketches of history retailed to the general public by the media that Watergate proved no one in America is above the law, Ford's pardon of Nixon demonstrated rather clearly that no one in America is above the law-- except for those who are above the law. It demonstrated to the presidents who followed Ford that if Nixon wasn't quite right when he asserted "Well, when the president does it that means that it is not illegal", then at least when the president does something illegal, he doesn't need to worry about facing the punishment prescribed by the law. Consider Reagan shrugging off responsibility for the illegal enterprises known as the Iran-Contra affair. Consider George W. Bush sneering at critics of his domestic wiretapping program. That's where you'll find Gerald Ford's legacy.

(Koller review via Norwegianity)


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