President Ford hade farewell to public office last night with a warning to his countrymen to maintain a strategic military balance he said would discourage nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union.
In the text of his final State of the Union message the President took credit for reversing "a dangerous decline" in U.S. military spending. He called upon his successor and Congress to continue this "positive trend which is [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] to contributing [WORD ILLEGIBLE] stability in the [WORDS ILLEGIBLE]
[WORDS ILLEGIBLE] that now confronts [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] is whether we have the natural will and defermination to continue this essential defense effort over the long term, as it must be continued," Ford said.
The President called specifically for approval of "three critical strategic programs" that he advocated repeatedly during his 2 1/2 years in office. These are the B-1 bomber, the Trident missile-lunching submarine and an advanced intercontinental balistic missile theoretically able to survive nuclear attack and deliver a retaliatory strike.
All three strategic programs involve decisions facing the new administration. At once time during his campaign. President-elect Jimmy Carter used the B-1 as an example of a wasteful project but he has more recently left open the question of whether he favors the bomber.
Speaking in the House chamber where he began his public career 28 years ago, Ford evoked the emotions and names of the past, beginning with the late House Speaker Sam Rayburn, who administered him the oath of congressional office on Jan. 3, 1949.
Ford said he treasured the memory of his congressional service and had always, both as congressman and President, remained friends with those who opposed him. But in his emotional farewell to public service Ford also seemed more than ready to enter private life.
"It is only as the temporary representatives and servants of the people that we meet here - we bring no hereditary status or gift of infallibility and none follows us from this place," Ford said. "Like President Washington, like the more fortunate of his successors, I look forward to the status of a private citizen with gladness and gratitude. To me, being a citizen of the United States of America is the greatest honor and privellege in this world."
The President, who a year ago had said that the state of the union was "not good," pronounced it good this time. He said he was leaving office with "a more perfect union than when my stewardship began."
In looking back on his administration Ford freely conceded that he had encountered disappointments, and he listed a number of them: failure to make "satisfactory progress toward achieving energy independence"; failure to enact "meaningful organizational reforms which I contemplated or the federal government": delay in judical reforms; lack of progress in putting back the size and growth of government.
Ford specifically blamed Congress for some of these failures.
"I set out to reduce the growth in the size and spending of the federal government, but no President can accomplish this alone," he said. "The Congress sidetracked most of my request for authority to consolidate overlapping programs and agencies, to return more decision-making and responsibility to state and local governments through block grants instead of rigid categorical programs and to eliminate unnecessary red tape . . ."
But the accomplishments outweighed the disappointments, in Ford's view.
The President claimed credit for restoring the integrity of the constitutional process for improving the economy and upgrading the national defense.
"I am proud of the part I have had in rebuilding confidence in the presidency, confidence in our free system and confidence in our future," Ford said. "Once again, Americans believe in themselves, in their leaders and in the promise that tomorrow holds for their children."
The President said that the United States now has "strong defense, strong alliances and a sound andd courageous foreign policy." He ticked off 10 foreign policy accomplishments and challenges and seemed to stress the critical situations facing the United States in southern Africa and the Middle East.
Speaking of the Middle East, where Ford said the prospects for peach are "brighter than they have been in three decades," the President called upon his successor to preservere in this quest.
"The opportunities for a final settlement are great, and the price of failure is a return to the bloodshed and hatred that for too long have brought tragedy to all the people of this area and repeatedly edged the world to the brink of war," Ford said.
The President said that in Africa that the "quest for peace, racial justice and economic progress is at a crucial point."
"America is committed to the side of peace and justice, and to the principle that Africa should shape its own future free of outside intervention," he said.
Ford made only brief references to the People's Republic of China and to Latin America.
He said of China that the relationship begun by Richard Nixon had proven "it's importance and its durability." He said of Latin America only that "our relations have taken on a new maturity and sense of common enterprise."
Ford concluded his summary of foreign policy issues by urging members of his own party in Congress to give Carter "loyal support on this area." This echoed Ford's own early congressional career, when as a Republican he supported the European recovery proposals of Democratic President Truman.
In paying frequent tribute to the "genius" of the American system of government, the President also - in marked contrast to his precdecessor - specifically praised the press.
" . . . Our vigilant press goes right on probing and publishing our faults and follies, confirming the wisdom of the framers of the First Amendment," Ford said.
But in celebrating the Constitution and the checks and balances it provided among the three branches of government, Ford also issued a warning to Congress not to go too far in limiting presidential resposibilities.
"There can be only on commander-in-chief," he said. "in these times cries cannot be managed and wars cannot be waged by committee. Nor can peace be pursued solely by parliamentary debate.To the ears of thw world, the President speaks for the nation."
The President kept a promise and called again for an income tax reduction of $10 billion and a raising of the personal federal income tax exemption from $750 to $1,000.
He said also that the United States should "revive our tax system both to ease the burden of heavy taxation and to encourage the investment necessary for the creation of productive jobs for all Americans who want to work."