James Brown on Gerald Ford


As far as I'm aware, the late Gerald Ford never made a public statement about the merits of the late James Brown. Brown weighed in on Ford, though, in his 1986 memoir The Godfather of Soul, written with Bruce Tucker:

I released another message song around this time, too: "Funky President (People It's Bad)." It was about President Ford, who had taken over from Mr. Nixon in August. Every time he made a speech, it gave people the blues. He was a nice man, but he talked a lot and didn't say anything. He was there as a caretaker after Watergate, and I think he did that. He was a good man, but I never looked at him as a president.

That last line wasn't meant as praise, but as far as I'm concerned it's the kindest thing you can say about a politician. I can fault Ford for many things, from pardoning Nixon to meddling in Angola, but I'd take a Ford over a Bush any day. Caretakers are my favorite kind of president, and it would be wonderful to have a chief executive who doesn't fret about his "place in history."

As for "Funky President," for years I assumed the song was about Nixon, who Brown infamously endorsed in 1972. I even wrote as much in an obit for Nixon in Liberty 12 years ago. (Consider this post a belated correction.) In my defense, it has some of the most opaque lyrics in the history of political songwriting. Here's a sample:

Let's get together and get some land
Raise our food like the Man
Save our money like the Mob
Put up a fight down on the job…

Turn up your funk motor, get down and praise the Lord
Get sexy sexy, get funky and dance
Love me baby, love me nice
Don't make it once, can you make it twice

Brown was a great musician, a great composer, and a great American, but he wasn't always a cogent commentator. The important thing is that "Funky President" is one of most danceable singles he ever recorded. If Gerald Ford inspired it, it ranks as one of the greatest accomplishments of his administration.

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  1. Yea, I put that one up there way past the assasination ban too.

  2. Unfortuneately Jesse Ford was a caretaker president over Nixon’s economic policies. Sometimes being a “caretaker” President can be a very bad thing. It certainly was in the case of Ford. I suppose Ford is a lot better than Bush, unless of course you are a South Vietnamese or a Cambodian.

  3. I wonder who “Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing” was written about?

  4. I have been saying for years that Gerald Ford was the most underrated president of the USA.

    FDR, of course, being the most overrated with James Earl Carter III closing fast.

  5. “FDR, of course, being the most overrated with James Earl Carter III closing fast.”

    I guess considering what a disaster Carter was, any praise would count as pretty significant overrating.

  6. Ford did what he could to help the country move on from Vietnam and Watergate; which was no small feat. Pardoning Nixon damaged his chance to becoming an electable President when election time came, but looking back sometimes moving on holds more precedence.

    If Ford remained President instead of Carter, I wonder what would have happened…

  7. “Pardoning Nixon damaged his chance to becoming an electable President when election time came,”

    I think Ford knew that and thought pardoning Nixon was the right thing to do and did it anyway. You have to respect him for that even if you disagree with the decision. The fact that now 30 years later, Jesse doesn’t see that fact makes me really wonder about Walker. That combined with the “I love caretaker Presidents the best” makes me really wonder what the hell is going through his brain this morning. I guess if a socialist won the office and gave us nationalized healthcare and 90% taxes, Jesse would just love the next guy who stayed the course because caretaker Presidents are so great. When you are a caretaker of national price controls and the most whacked out economic policies since Jackson closed the Bank of the United States, being a caretaker President is not a good thing.

  8. I guess if a socialist won the office and gave us nationalized healthcare and 90% taxes, Jesse would just love the next guy who stayed the course because caretaker Presidents are so great.

    Don’t you ever run out of straw to burn?

  9. John, surely you recognize that Jesse is just repeating the libertarian dogma that anything a government leader does is bad, so therefore a leader who doesn’t do anything is the best kind?

    I agree it makes no sense. Whether or not a “caretaker” President is a good thing depends on exactly what it is that he’s taking care of.

  10. “Don’t you ever run out of straw to burn?”

    Is there any irony and sarcasm that doesn’t go right over your head? God God even Dan T. understood what I was saying.

  11. John: If you’re gonna bash Ford for continuing Nixon’s economic policies — and yeah, that’s certainly a legitimate criticism — you should be a bit kinder to Carter, the first Cold War president to do any serious deregulating.

    Anyway, the good thing about caretakers is that they don’t do much new damage. Sadly, that’s usually the best we can expect from our presidents.

  12. Although it’s like comparing radiation poisoning to biological warfare, I’d vote for Teddy R as worst President ever over Franklin R.


    “Anyway, the good thing about caretakers is that they don’t do much new damage. Sadly, that’s usually the best we can expect from our presidents.”

    Actually, it is probably the MOST important thing a President can do. The Oath of Office should take a phrase from the Hippocratic Oath: “do no harm”.

  13. “you should be a bit kinder to Carter, the first postwar president to do any serious deregulating.”

    Domestically Carter was not as bad as he could have been. He also appointed Paul Volker to the Fed, which is a very underrated move. I get your point about not doing damage.

  14. Defeating Naziism doesn’t get any respect from the right anymore.

    C’mon, guys, you’re not even pretending! 😉

  15. The ONLY thing Carter did good was get the Congress to deregulate transportation.

    I remember a reporter many years ago glowing on how Carter had doubled women in the workforce, as if he had hired every one of them. The fact was that his time in office increased dual income households just to keep up with the insane inflation that his other policies created.

    People thought inflation was bad under Nixon and Ford, little did they know . . .

    One of the few things he didn’t do, that was a good thing, was not imposing wage and price controls.

  16. Hmnm, the president who defeated the Nazis, and the president who got Israel’s strongest, closest enemy to make peace and recognize her, are both on the righties’ shit list.

    If I were a neocon, I’d take this opportunity to fire off a cheap shot.

    But I’m won’t, because that sort of political stunt is sleazy and dishonest.

  17. “Defeating Naziism doesn’t get any respect from the right anymore.”

    Right. Uncle Joe was so much better than Adolf. That’s why Harry Hopkins liked him so much.

  18. Arensen,

    When I wrote, “Defeating Naziism doesn’t get any respect from the right anymore,” I was being sarcastic. It was meant as a parody what people like you think.

    And here you go, backing that statement up in all seriousness.

    I can’t keep up anymore.

  19. how can carter be overrated? it’s pretty much agreed across the political board that his presidency was a disaster. all praise towards the man has been about stuff he’s done since he left office and his character as a human being. i would say the gipper deserves title of most overrated president of all time. i bet gerald ford isn’t going to get a 2 week funeral like he got a couple years ago.

  20. joe

    Your sarcasm was obvious. Pity you can’t detect it when it is directed at you.

    Franklin Roosevelt may have seen the need to defeat the Nazis, but he was utterly blind to the evils of the Soviet Union. This failing pervaded his entire administration, most obviously in the person of Harry Hopkins.

    In the “Gulag Archipelago”, Solzhenitsin decribes a visit by Eleanor Roosevelt to the infamous Lubyanka prison, where she is completely taken in by the “Potemkin Prison Cell” staged by the KGB. Admittedly, this was after FDR’s death, but it typifies the willful self-deceit of the FDR administration towards the Soviets.

  21. Um, can we talk about James Brown for a minute? Particularly the line “Brown was a great musician, a great composer, and a great American ….”

    Was Brown that great a musician or that great a composer? Or is this just a bunch of white liberals congratulating themselves on how much they appreciate black culture?

    As for the “great American” bit, was Elvis Presley a great American? Or Hank Williams? Or any of the rest of those manic-depressive, pill-popping, booze-guzzling, wife-beating narcissists who bring a moment of magic to our otherwise drab and meaningless lives?

  22. Alan: Answering your questions in order: Yes he was, yes he was, I don’t think that’s what’s going on, yes he was, yes he was, and yes, some of them were.

  23. So, if we were to form a Boring Caretaker Party, could it’s candidates be sold to today’s American voters?

  24. On the question of presidents, I’d like to take a moment to defend FDR from the attack that he was “blind to the evils of Communism.” The Communists weren’t shooting at us during his term of office and the Nazis were. The Commies were, in fact, shooting at the Nazis, and doing a lot more of that than we were. So, if Roosevelt neglected to scold Stalin about the Gulags, maybe he had more pressing concerns at the time. Since Roosevelt died before the Cold War started, we never got a chance to find out what he might have done or said about Communism when he could do so without endangering our alliance.

    Also, I don’t think Roosevelt should be faulted for stroking Stalin’s ego during WWII, at least since Roosevelt probably thought such ego-stroking kept Stalin from surrendering. It’s important to recongnize that Stalin really did consider making a separate peace with Germany, just like Russia did in WWI.

    My opinion is that Stalin loses the title of Worst Human in History to Hitler by one point, and that point being he was on our side during the Second World War. It’s impossible to defend Stalin on any other grounds, and he was evil, but I’m still going to give him, and more importantly, the Russian people, credit for fighting Hitler.

  25. Arensen,

    I don’t know if your “utterly blind” comment is accurate. When Roosevelt dies, we were still at war with the Soviets as our allies, so there would necessarily be some give in the president’s stance towards them that would not be present if we had not been forced together by circumstances.

    While there is certainly some truth to the statetment that he was less vigilante than he could have been, let’s not forget that FDR dumped George Wallace.


    Is there any respect that a white person can pay to a black person that wouldn’t arouse your suspicion?

  26. joe, I realize this is nitpicky, especially since you echoed my point, but Roosevelt’s Veep was Henry Wallace, pretty much George’s exact opposite.

  27. Karen

    Granted that the Soviet Union was our ally in WWII, but while they weren’t actually shooting in our direction, they were certainly committing many unfriendly acts of espionage – at the Manhattan Project, at the Ultra Secret site in Blechley Park, with Blunt et al., building their overall network in the West, among other things.

    It wasn’t until the Gouzenko affair that the Truman administration began to take seriously the warnings that J Edgar Hoover had been giving all along. [Before joe can say anything about JEH’s neanderthal position on civil rights, I will state that his perception of the threat from the Soviet Union was one of the few matters in which JEH was right.]

  28. You’re all getting away from the intriguing question posed by the original post — was the lyric “Get sexy sexy, get funky and dance” about Nixon or Ford?

  29. Karen,



    “but while they weren’t actually shooting in our direction, they were certainly committing many unfriendly acts of espionage”

    You mean like the Israelis during the 70s-today? Allies spying on each other? Why, I never!

  30. joe

    If I said that Pollard should stay in prison till the end of his sentance – I can’t remember if it was life or 25 years – would you accuse me of anti-Semitism?

    I’m still holding out for the government to admit that the Israelis deliberately attacked the USS Liberty rather than allowing the attack to be described as an “accident”.

  31. Of course I wouldn’t accuse you of anti-semitism, Arensen.

    But let’s not lose sight of the issue here – FDR wasn’t criticized for how he punished individual Soviet spies, but for his dealings with the Soviet government.

  32. joe

    Fair enough. In my view, the myopia of FDR towards the Soviet Union was inexcusable. I cited the espionage examples to draw attention to the fact that the Soviets were actively working against the US even during WWII. The US held the hammer – the Soviets could not survive without US aid.

    If Stalin had made peace with the Nazis – and he would have been a fool to do so – the post war boundary of the Soviet Union would have been somewhere East of where it was after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The Germans would have ultimately been defeated by the Western Allies and the Warsaw Pact never would have existed. I will grant it would have taken longer and cost a lot more American, British and Canadian lives, but the Nazis would have lost.

    Since you are expressing a desire to return to the larger context, FDR’s policies vis-a-vis the Soviets were only one of many libertarian objections to the man. His “New Deal” is a disasterous legacy which may yet bankrupt the US.

    Apologies in advance for no further response, but I’ve got horses to ride. Back in 7 hours.

  33. What is worse than the FDR lemmings and apologists are the folks who contend that FDR intentionally denied supplies to the Soviets.

    Recently mentioned one of them from The New Republic, a review of My Dear Stalin over at my Slashdot journal.

  34. Aresen,

    Obviously, in hindsight, you are correct. We can all see that FDR should have been more vigilant. But just as Jonathon Pollard doesn’t prove that Israel was our enemy, Soviet snooping during WW2 did not produce an obvious reason to treat them as our enemy. You don’t think the British were trying to figure out what they could from us?

    And I don’t see how you could be so confident of an allied victory without the Germans having to worry about an Eastern Front.

  35. Just remembered one other good thing Carter did: Commuted the sentence of G. Gordon Liddy.

  36. You know, I’m probably the last guy around here you’d expect to have have a good word for Eleanor Roosevelt. But, hey, any woman who was a crack pistol shot and an expert horsewoman (insert obligatory joke about her looks here) has to be OK in my book. 🙂

    Now it’s true that I tend to agree with the Landon supporter who said in 1936 that “Mrs Roosevelt is like a busy-body housewife who looks everywhere in America and wants to redecorate.” Or words to that effect. But, the fact is, unlike her snobbish, frivolous and faithless husband she had a genuine rapport with and sympathy for the dispossessed and working classes of America (in spite of her aristocratic demeanor and funny accent).

    Long before it was fashionable for the Democratic Party* establishment (again completely unlike FDR himself) she took on the cause of Civil Rights for blacks. At one time she was met at a train station in a southern city by an activist lady who drove her to a rally with a loaded revolver on the seat between them, each one fully ready to use it if anyone attempted to interfere.

    I remember the Solzhenitsyn passage too. I don’t know if it’s true or not**. I do know that she constantly warned FDR to be wary of Stalin because she saw she saw Stalin and Soviet Communism for what they were. And as UN delegate at the founding sessions she went toe-to-toe with the Soviet minister to demand inclusion of all the “American-style”*** Human Rights language in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    *In fact, in those days (in case anyone didn’t know) the Democratic Party was still essentially the party of segregation and Jim Crow, whether in its Southern agrarian faction or its Northern union labor faction.

    **After all, it’s possible that like all visitors she was obligated by protocol and simple civility to appear satisfied.

    ***I’ll admit there is plenty of left-wing New Deal claptrap in the document. But it does reflect so good a vision of the aspirations of humanity that I’m willing to live with it. But maybe that’s just my opinion. Also, it’s worth noting that it was not just the Soviets who objected to “American-style” rights. Most European countries did not see rights of free speech etc in the same way as Americans did in those days.

    And, oh, by the way, joe, do you really think that Alf Landon or Wendell Willkie would not have handled the Nazi menace as well as FDR did? I am sure that both of them were, in fact, up to the task.

  37. Tough to say, Isaac. Both were strong, capable men who would have made good wartime presidents from Dec 41 until VJ Day.

    But, as Republicans, their political interests and ideologies would have doomed lend-lease, left us even less prepared than we already were, and possibly even put a pro-Nazi (or, as it would have been phrased, “cooperative anti-Communist”) tilt onto our foreign policy.

  38. Good info, I watched the “Soul Survivor” documentary where James Brown was said to have written “Funky President” about Ford after a mtg at the white house. However, no explanation was given about what it actually meant about ford. James Brown defined “funky” as being “…about the injustices, the things that go wrong…about what it takes to make people move?”. With that, one is only left to speculate. Thank’s for including the quote. I’m linking this entry to both of my post on gerald ford and james brown.

  39. Gerald Ford set the stage for criminals to follow. James Brown gave us funk, a long run of big hits.

    Read the truth about James Brown and Gerald Ford at:

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