TODAY IS day that will live in infamy. The latest generation historian Rick Perlstein has a piece in Salon today about Richard M. Nixon’s pardon by President Gerald Ford. It happened 40 years ago today.
So, I thought I would repost what I wrote many years ago, warts and emotions, when Mr. Ford died. It created quite a stir when I posted it, also publishing it on Huffington Post. At the time everyone, including Democrats and progressives, were writing glowing eulogies of Ford, something I simply could not do for one very good reason.
When I was a kid my family colored my politics, which includes my first political memory of seeing John F. Kennedy’s funeral through the eyes of my big brother and sister. My one woman political show revolved around this history of Republican background, turned Democratic because of historic events. It’s also the reason I can say, without apologizing, that I wanted President Nixon punished for what he did to this country, our soldiers and to the first generation of 18 year old voters, and why I will never forgive Gerald R. Ford’s betrayal of my trust. That betrayal, which was built on Nixon’s, haunts American politics to this day through the villains of Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld, regardless of his resignation. We still haven’t cleansed ourselves of these ruthless, dishonest and anti-American, anti democratic brutes. Ford’s pardon of Richard M. Nixon is one overriding reason why.
Ford: I knew that it would be unpopular. It was more unpopular than I expected, but that did not change my mind. I felt then, as I feel today, the pardon of President Nixon was absolutely essential.
It was part of the healing process of the times in Washington and the country. We had gone through the Watergate tragedy. We had had the war in Vietnam. The country was torn apart. And it was absolutely essential that we step forward to try, in any way possible, to heal the — these wounds, so to speak. And so I granted the pardon because it was right then. And I’m pleased and honored that the Kennedy Library and Caroline and others in the family now agree with me.
Many remember former President Gerald R. Ford very fondly. I have only one memory, which colors all others. He is the man who pardoned Richard M. Nixon, and sent this country down a path of denial, obfuscation and political fantasy. Nixon’s pardon was supposed to be for the good of the country. I can tell you, after watching every second of the Watergate hearings, I surely didn’t feel like it did anyone any good, except of course the politicians who cover for one another and try to keep reality from We the People.
It takes great courage to make one of your own pay the price of his or her crimes and misdemeanors. I will never believe that Nixon paid enough for his. The man should have been impeached. After all, his crimes went far beyond a consensual affair. Nixon’s actions went deep and betrayed us all, including the very notion on which this country stands. But saving face and keeping up appearances of the nation was what Ford and others believed was right for America. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
The standard set by Ford remains. Republicans get a pass. Democrats get held to a standard Nixon did not. I’m one of the people against impeaching Mr. Bush, with the caveat that we must follow the investigations to come wherever they may lead. But it does raise the question: If Clinton got impeached, and Nixon got pardoned by Ford, what is fitting for Mr. Bush? The scales have not been set right since Ford’s actions robbed this country of a just and much needed trial. If we throw in the actions of Henry Kissinger, who did much of Nixon’s foreign policy handywork, you could have had the political crimes of the 20th century. President Gerald R. Ford robbed us all of that justice. It follows us still.
By the President of the United States of America a Proclamation
Richard Nixon became the thirty-seventh President of the United States on January 20, 1969 and was reelected in 1972 for a second term by the electors of forty-nine of the fifty states. His term in office continued until his resignation on August 9, 1974.
Pursuant to resolutions of the House of Representatives, its Committee on the Judiciary conducted an inquiry and investigation on the impeachment of the President extending over more than eight months. The hearings of the Committee and its deliberations, which received wide national publicity over television, radio, and in printed media, resulted in votes adverse to Richard Nixon on recommended Articles of Impeachment.
As a result of certain acts or omissions occurring before his resignation from the Office of President, Richard Nixon has become liable to possible indictment and trial for offenses against the United States. Whether or not he shall be so prosecuted depends on findings of the appropriate grand jury and on the discretion of the authorized prosecutor. Should an indictment ensue, the accused shall then be entitled to a fair trial by an impartial jury, as guaranteed to every individual by the Constitution.
It is believed that a trial of Richard Nixon, if it became necessary, could not fairly begin until a year or more has elapsed. In the meantime, the tranquility to which this nation has been restored by the events of recent weeks could be irreparably lost by the prospects of bringing to trial a former President of the United States. The prospects of such trial will cause prolonged and divisive debate over the propriety of exposing to further punishment and degradation a man who has already paid the unprecedented penalty of relinquishing the highest elective office of the United States.
Now, THEREFORE, I, GERALD R. FORD, President of the United States, pursuant to the pardon power conferred upon me by Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, have granted and by these presents do grant a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 20, 1969 through August 9,1974.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this eighth day of September, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and seventy-four, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and ninety-ninth.
GERALD R. FORD
The media will now treat us to a genuflection, remembering the decent man of Ford’s post-presidency. That can be understood, for Americans have great trouble with honesty upon the passing of any politician, though you can be sure that will not be the case for President Clinton when his time comes, which will hopefully be many years from now.
My thoughts and prayers are with the Ford family, but I will never forget that Ford robbed this country of a significant act. Getting justice for a president who had so run amok of our democratic republic that he thought he was more important than the office of the presidency, even more important than the country itself. The act of pardoning Nixon colors all things having to do with Gerald R. Ford. He thought it was right; that it was courageous. If pardoning Nixon took courage, imagine the steel of spine needed to do the hard and just thing, which was to make the country look at what was done in our name through the actions of Richard M. Nixon.
The full impeachment and removal of Richard M. Nixon might have healed this country, not just put a political bandage on the disgrace that was his presidency. Instead, all Mr. Ford’s pardon did was prove to men coming up next, like Mr. Reagan and Mr. Bush, that the president is above the law and in an orbit all his own.
We’ll never know what might have been, but former President Ford made a decision that taught a generation something antithetical to the American way. He taught my generation and the ones before mine that if you were powerful enough you could get away with anything.
If past is prologue, which others have written before, the pardon of Richard M. Nixon by Gerald Ford explains in part why the unitary executive presidency of George W. Bush came to be. After all, Rumsfeld and Cheney are from the Nixon era and cut their political teeth on his disgrace. They’ve been trying to get even ever since, understanding that if you hide your deeds deep enough, no one will have the stomach for making you pay for what you’ve done. Mr. Bush will likely ride that reality out of office, unless today’s generation of politicians have the courage to hold him and his Administration accountable for a war that now makes Vietnam look tame by comparison, considering what it is unleashing in the Middle East.
Gerald R. Ford plays a large part in American history for the one act that sent this country down a road from which we still have not recovered. Pardoning Nixon is like letting a teen get away with murder by helping him cover up the crime. He never learns. Some of America’s politicians remain in the shadow of that teen. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at what Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld have wrought in Iraq. Mr. Bush is part of the legacy left behind by Gerald R. Ford’s pardoning of Richard M. Nixon. Republicans still haven’t learned the lesson that Democrats were made to pay for “crimes and misdemeanors” that didn’t come close to the presidencies of both Nixon and Bush, not to mention Ronald Wilson Reagan.