(Another version of this post was deleted by accident. I apologize for the lost comments.)
If Ford had beaten back Carter's challenge in 1976, the neo-con crusades of the mid to late Seventies would have been blunted by the mere fact of a Republican occupying the White House. Reagan, most likely, would have returned to his slumbers in California after his abortive challenge to Ford for the nomination in Kansas in 1976.
Instead of an weak southern Democratic conservative in agreement to almost every predation by the military industrial complex, we would have had a Midwestern Republican, thus a politician far less vulnerable to the promoters of the New Cold War.
Would Ford have rushed to fund the Contras and order their training by Argentinian torturers? Would he have sent the CIA on its mostly costly covert mission, the $3.5 billion intervention in Afghanistan? The nation would have been spared the disastrous counsels of Zbigniev Brzezinski.
That's most of Cockburn's reasoning—Ford didn't entangle the U.S. in foreign wars, and he's probably the last president who'll be able to say that. That certainly isn't the reason he's being generally fondly remembered this week. His pardon of Richard Nixon is far better remembered than his wariness of foreign entanglements, which says a lot about our values circa 2006.
And Cockburn's bete noire, Jimmy Carter, is at least as well regarded as Ford. The New Republic's Martin Labouisse Farnsworth Peretz speculates that the anti-Carter storm proved by people like himself means that Carter won't "be put out there to address the American people [at the Democratic Convention], as former presidents usually are." But Carter is incredibly popular in his retirement. A poll taken this month by Gallup showed 38 percent of Americans rating Carter as an "astounding" or "above average" president, and another 38 percent thinking he was at least average. Every president receives the benefits of a decades-long makeover in the media after he's gone, largely the result of the "imperial presidency" we're saddled with. But at least Cockburn's revisionism has a soul.