Wrong on Nixon and Ford

Yesterday VPR broadcast a commentary on the fortieth anniversary of Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon for all the crimes he committed while president. In the commentary, Vic Henningsen expressed the following sentiment:

 But most of us now believe Ford was right; that a pardon would harm the country less than prolonged criminal proceedings against the disgraced former president. Though it wasn’t clear at the time, Ford did us a favor.

 I don't know who the “us” is that Henningsen is talking about, but he and anyone who thinks the decision to pardon Nixon was the right thing to do is dead wrong.

Remember the context. We had just, one month earlier, seen the end of the most corrupt administration in history, and we had not yet seen the full scope of Nixon's criminality. Nixon's resignation in lieu of impeachment was just the beginning of the effort to reclaim the rule of law. Ford's pardon deprived the country of the chance to see Nixon's crimes redressed.

Constitutional crisis? No more than Spiro Agnew's prosecution for his crimes, or any other politician's. Ford's pardon was an advance ratification of Nixon's statement, in his David Frost interviews, that “when the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

 No, even if there was no deal to get that pardon (and you will never convince me of that), by once and forever establishing that a president cannot face accountability for his criminal actions, Ford did a terrible harm to the United States.

6 thoughts on “Wrong on Nixon and Ford

  1. It cracks me up when the Republican’s get all righteous about the legality of Obama’s independent initiatives.

    It was their own Felon in Chief who took the position that:

    “when the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

    The shadow of that pardon hung over the Ford White House and everything Ford did.

  2. Glenn Greenwald’s recent book “With Liberty and Justice for Some,” posits that Ford’s pardon of Nixon started the era of official lack of accountability from which we have yet to emerge.  We look forward, not backward, as has been said.

  3. I’ve never understood the reasoning. How could a proper criminal investigation have been anything but a validation of our system of justice?

    Sadly, the takeaway at the time was, “hey, the system is fine; it was just one bad egg.”

    A huge lost opportunity.

  4. Those who’ve typed responses, so far, appear to be writing about personal memories of this part of our nation’s history. I’m 43 years old. At age 3, I wasn’t even conscious when Ford pardoned Nixon. I learned of Nixon, and his exploits, many years later in middle school from a teacher who was roughly my current age, although that teacher appeared to be much older at the time than I feel today.

    Time keeps on ticking….  

  5. I was a 20-something during this process and definitely anti-Nixon, somewhat anti-government. While I was engrossed by the ongoing drama (and had actually known Nixon personally), I was glad to see the country move on.

    Of course, I didn’t understand in my 20’s what had really occurred to our country in terms of the criminality of his and his henchmen’s acts.

    On reading history I don’t see that this was a total aberration. I also don’t see that this type of malfeasance has stopped.

    Most of us (US citizens) don’t even want to bother with thinking about their government. It could be totalitarian, socialist, representative or not. Just make sure we can get from here to there and eat/sleep/etc. This is probably true of most European democracies where the populace was born into and used to normal freedoms.

    Complacency breeds lack of vigilance. The state can assume more and more powers without any push back. Most Americans really didn’t care what Tricky did, or the results.  

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