Saturday :: Apr 22, 2006

Ford Had A Better Idea

by pessimist

Former presidents should be a valuable source of experienced and informed information. Lately, however, one has to wonder if former presidents should be seen only once in a while and never heard. Case in point:

Former president Gerald R. Ford wrote that retired generals should not decide the nation's war policies and leadership lest it set "a dangerous precedent that would severely undermine our country's long tradition of civilian control of the military."

I'm very sorry, Mr. Ford, that you didn't feel that way in 1974. When you pardoned Richard Nixon for his crimes against America and the Constitution, you set the stage for today's Constitutional crises. Even your own former aides hint at this fact:

[A]uthor Barry Werth looks at the government, foreign policy and politics of today, he sees a course that was set during Gerald Ford's first month in the White House. Werth recalls that critical period in 31 Days, his new book covering the month from Ford's swearing in to his pardon of Richard Nixon. Benton Becker, a former Ford aide, suggested he look at the tumultuous early days of Ford's administration.
"There's a direct line from that moment to this," Werth said.
"It just struck me we've been living out the aftermath ever since."

That, Mr. Werth, is a gross understatement!

In the first place, Mr. Ford, your violation of the trust of the American people has left a wound in the American political psyche that has yet to heal.

I still remember those days covered by Werth's book, and I was hoping that the selection of you under the provisions of the 25th Amendment as VP when Spiro Agnew resigned would not prove to be a bad thing. The fact that you were a member of the infamous Warren Commission didn't improve your stature with me, but I was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

You didn't start out badly:

With Nixon resigning in disgrace and public trust eroded by Watergate, Ford returned integrity to the presidency. Two key decisions he made in those early days, Werth said, were the continuation of Nixon's foreign policy ...

[For all the disrespect Nixon deserves for needlessly continuing the Vietnam War, his diplomatic initiatives aimed toward China to normalize relations between previously hostile countries would have earned him an honored place in American history - had Vietnam ended when he originally promised it would. Continuing Nixon's foreign policy - without Vietnam, which was about to collapse soon anyway - would have made sense.]

... and the choice of the moderate Nelson Rockefeller as his vice-president -- a signal he would not kowtow to the Republican Party's right wing.

Ah, Jerry! Would that you had maintained that position! By selling your soul to that branch of the GOP through the following appointments at that time, you did irreparable harm to your nation:

Ford considered George H.W. Bush for his vice president, but appointed him ambassador to China and, later, CIA director, setting him on a course to the White House and possibly clearing the way for the current President Bush. Ford picked as his chief of staff little-known Donald Rumsfeld, the current secretary of defense, and, as Rumsfeld's assistant, 33-year-old Dick Cheney, which "really catapulted those two guys to the center of things," Werth said.

But as no one yet knew anything about these three, these moves didn't seem at the time to be bad moves. We still had hope that you could end the acrimonious divisiveness caused by your predecessor - until you stabbed us in the back:

Werth leads readers to the decision Ford made on his 31st day in office. Against the recommendations of his advisers, he announced he was granting Nixon a full pardon. "It's hard enough to take over the job of president and then have to deal with this disgraced former president," Werth said.
"He thought people would get it and forgive him and say, 'You're right, Mr. President.'"

Sorry, sir. You will never get forgiveness from me for this act, which established the specious legal precedents under which our current abuser of the Constitution manipulates and corrupts the law just to get an interpretation that he claims justifies his illegalities.

As many who lived back then remember well, you had it all - and then threw it all away:

Ford's approval rating plunged from 70 percent to 48 percent, the earlier bipartisanship he enjoyed was shattered and he lost control over his party. Hobbled by the pardon, Ford never regained his credibility and lost the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter.

His political fortunes might have been better served had he awaited bipartisan support for the pardon, but "Ford is a very determined man once he's made up his mind," Werth said. "He just had this impossible burden with Nixon, and he handled that badly and lost what credibility he had with the American people."

Since you issued Nixon's pardon, no president enjoyed the sort of credibility with the majority of the nation as you had. Every one of them had large opposition blocs that distrusted everything each did.

"I think it was a pivotal point," Werth said. "Ford was moving toward the center and was fighting against the Republican right.
"After the pardon, the Republican right moved it the other way.
The consequence of that is the foreign policy we have today."

The very one which created the protest of the retired generals that you opened up about.

But your culpability doesn't end there, Mr. Ford:

The questions remain: Who limits presidential power? What role should the media play? Is the government above the law? The president? Americans today continue to search for the answers.

Mr. Ford, don't make a bad situation worse. Stay out of the fray. Your wife needs your attention right now, not Donald Rumsfeld.

...And your little dog, too!

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