Gerald Ford, 38th President of the United States, died yesterday at 93.
This is the man who replaced Spiro Agnew as Vice-President when Agnew stepped aside, and then assumed the presidency after Nixon’s resignation, saying “Our long national nightmare is over.” According to WaPo, Ford had claimed his highest ambition as Speaker of the House, yet ended up in the White House in the wake of the biggest political scandal of our times.
I was a very young teenager during Watergate, and my political memories of this period are more a reflection of my parents’ views. Like everyone else, they were incensed about Nixon — an attitude radically enhanced by a personal sense of betrayal; my mom adored him in his first term, and was originally a huge supporter. She was furious about that pardon, and because that stands out so strongly for me, I spent some time online this morning, looking for the whys and wherefores… and came across the transcript of a live chat from February 1995, hosted by Scholastic:
President Ford: I have never regretted my decision to pardon Mr. Nixon. It was the right decision when I made it in 1974 and the public today better understands my reasons as a result more than 50% of the American people are supportive of my pardon of Mr. Nixon. Let me tell you why I made this very critical decision.In the first few weeks that I was President, I was facing a serious economic recession in the U.S., inflation was high, interest rates were going up, unemployment was getting worse. At the same time I was worried about the attitude of our allies in Europe and our enemies in the Soviet Union. These serious challenges required 100% of my time as president. At the same time, I was called upon to spend 25% of my time in the Oval Office listening to the Department of Justice and my White House Counsel as to what I should do with Mr. Nixon’s tapes and papers.
I finally decided the only way to spend 100% of my time on the serious problems of the Federal Government and 30 million citizens was to get rid of the time spent on Mr. Nixon’s tapes and papers. To do that, I pardoned Mr. Nixon, got his problems off my White House desk, so I could spend all of my time on the nation’s problems at home and abroad.
Good for him… and ultimately, good for us, too. It’s interesting what time and perspective can bring. From the NY Times:
The pardon, intensely unpopular at the time, came to be generally viewed as correct. In May 2001, Mr. Ford was honored with a “Profile in Courage” Award at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston. Senator Edward M. Kennedy spoke and said he had originally opposed the pardon. “But time has a way of clarifying past events,” he said, “and now we see that President Ford was right.”
Joe Gandelman writes (his emphasis):
In a sense, Ford will likely be remembered as President who gambled, and won part of his bet and lost the other part. The country did move on quickly after Watergate with Nixon’s pardon — although some may argue that the lack of a trial may have made it easier for those who hold the office to repeat Nixon’s mistakes and violations. On the other hand, Nixon could well have gotten off or won on appeal. No one really KNOWS how a trial would have ended.
But, unquestionably, the country healed faster from the partisan tensions following Nixon’s resignation due to Ford’s action.
Gerald Ford was an ordinary guy who stepped in during extraordinary times and did what needed to be done. From the Scholastic transcript:
Comment: We’ve all talked about how hard it must be to be president. You have to make decisions for a lot of people. Sometimes people forget to say thank you when you do good things for them, or for even trying. We just want to say “Thank You, President Ford” for all the times you helped our country, and for the times you tried hard to help us but things didn’t work out. Not everyone is brave enough to be a president. – Mrs. Rogone’s 3rd grade, Castleton, NY.
I’m glad somebody remembered to say “Thank you”.
* * * * *
While Joe’s post (linked above) has a great round-up, lots of folks are blogging this morning. Some posts that I particularly enjoyed came from Right Wing Nut House, Gun Toting Liberal, TBogg, and Outside the Beltway (with another good round-up) and Gay Patriot.
And while I’ve learned more about President Ford everywhere this morning, the post at Pam’s House Blend is extremely interesting.
Also — Ed Morrissey asks (and links to discussions about) the still-relevant question: Should Ford have pardoned Nixon?