Commentators have been falling all over themselves to praise the late Gerald Ford for pardoning Richard Nixon a month after assuming the presidency. Even Ted Kennedy has said he came to realize that pardoning Nixon was the right thing to do.
No doubt Ford’s motives were honorable. He was that kind of guy. But did he do the right thing? No, says the author Barry Werth, writing in today’s New York Times. Not only did Ford squander his popularity, he also squandered his effectiveness. It also directly led to Ford’s elevating the likes of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, as he was compelled to abandon the centrist tone he’d initially struck. Werth writes:
President Ford believed that by pardoning Mr. Nixon, he was putting Watergate and the imperial presidency in the past. But by sacrificing his popularity, he also lost much of his mandate to address the aftermath of Watergate and Vietnam with moderation, bipartisanship and national humility — the very goals he set out to achieve. Forced to the right, his administration spawned many of the core attitudes and key players of the George W. Bush White House.
And what, really, would have been the harm of seeing Nixon frog-marched off to prison?