It was the latest highpoint in a year filled with them: on Wednesday evening, as part of the Citi Foundation Lecture Series, the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy hosted a lively and insightful conversation between eminent statesmen and Ford administration alumni Dr. Henry Kissinger, 56th Secretary of State, and Paul H. O'Neill, 72nd Secretary of the Treasury.
Held in New York City at the McGraw-Hill Building, the event continued the Ford School's yearlong commemoration of President Ford's centennial and was attended by Ford School alumni, students, committee members, and a number of distinguished guests. The lively and wide-ranging exchange offered insights into the Ford administration, as well as current international and domestic policy issues.
Ford School Dean Susan M. Collins introduced the conversation and noted that naming the school for Gerald Ford marked a transformational moment in the school's history. "It raised the stature of the school and linked us to a great man whose decency and commitment to public service inspire our students today."
Such decency and commitment seem to have inspired Dr. Kissinger and Mr. O'Neill, colleagues who remained lifelong friends with President Ford and with each other.
"He was the nicest man I ever knew," Dr. Kissinger recalled. "With President Ford, unlike other presidents," he explained, "what you see is what you get," praising the president's success at gaining political support with an honest approach. Such an approach—Kissinger informing his counterpart of his goals and exactly how he hoped to achieve them—also made for successful diplomacy during the tightrope act that characterized opening relations with China in the 1970s.
"I could have finished the Nixon presidency if I screwed up," he said and described the delicate power play between the U.S. and Chinese governments, noting that "you cannot have peace in the world if a large percentage of the human population is not in communication with the other."
Dr. Kissinger and Mr. O'Neill also discussed such topics as congressional gridlock, tax policy, and the nuclear capabilities of Iran, followed by questions from the audience.
Dr. Kissinger previously visited the Ford School in 2000, along with President Ford, when he delivered the keynote address at the school naming ceremony and celebration. Paul O'Neill delivered the Charge to the Class at the Ford School's 2013 Commencement in April.
President Gerald Ford would have turned 100 on July 14. Since late fall 2012, the Ford School has hosted a number of centennial events,, including a tribute to First Lady Betty Ford; a visit from the Ford administration's energy czar, Frank Zarb; a screening of "Black & Blue", a documentary examining the lifelong friendship between Gerald Ford and Willis Ward; and an unveiling of a scale model of President Ford's statue from the U.S. Capitol, with remarks by Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft.
On July 11, alumni, students, faculty, staff, and friends around the globe will gather to toast President Ford at the 3rd annual Worldwide Ford School Spirit Day.
Established in 2000 to honor President Ford, the Citi Foundation Lecture Series brings prominent policymakers from the national and international arenas to the Ford School each year to engage students and faculty in dialogue and to give a public address. Previous speakers include Oscar Arias, Helene Gayle, Joseph Stiglitz, Lawrence Summers, and Robert Zoellick.