Today “Liberal Republican” is an oxymoron, but in the 70s and the 80s, they did exist, Nelson Rockefeller was their leader. Elected four times as governor and one of America’s wealthiest politicians, Rockefeller resigned in 1973 to devote all of his time to a potential presidential run in 1976. But when Vice President Spiro T. Agnew resigned in disgrace after pleading guilty to not paying taxes, Rockefeller called Nixon and asked for the vice presidency.
Nixon decided instead to appoint House Minority Leader and Michigan congressman Gerald Ford. After Nixon’s resignation Gerald Ford was sworn in as President. Ford offered the Vice Presidency to Rockefeller. Knowing that he would not be the nominee for president in 1976, Rockefeller relaxed and enjoyed his duties as vice president. This attitude was caught on camera, above in Binghamton, NY.; A heckler was shouting insults and Rockefeller leaned over the podium and gave him the finger. The picture appeared in newspaper across the nation, the public opinion was divided: some criticizing it as a crude gesture, but others admitting that it was nice to see politician who wasn’t afraid to show just what he really meant.
Shortly after taking office both Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Rockefeller had been diagnosed with cancer and had to have mastectomies. It was major headline news and focused the nations attention on the dangers of breast cancer. Then when California’s former two-term governor Ronald Reagan announced that he would be a candidate for the Republican nomination, Ford had to appease the conservatives, and replace Rockefeller was replaced on the ticket with Senator Robert Dole of Kansas. It was a rally for Dole in Binghamton that Rockefeller hold up his middle finger with ‘sneering, Satanic expression’. For him, not running for reelection again, the defiant middle finger was a kind of declaration of independence freeing him from the unspoken rule that politicians must always flatter the audience and ignore the hecklers.
He retired soon after; Rockefeller could have died with the respect, but it was reported that his fatal heart attack was induced by a more than the usual late night ‘office work’ with a young female associate.