By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Another view of the Nixon pardon

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?

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  1. Anonymous

    Hey Dan, have you checked in with the WaPo this morning? Woodward, it seems, had been chatting with Ford in recent years for a far-off book project, and Ford embargoed the taped interviews until the book came out or he died. It’s a short story, but it’s interesting–it seems Ford was no fan of the neocons and the Iraq war, and didn’t have much nice to say about Cheney & Rummy. Also, he talked about what a big baby Henry Kissinger was about harsh press coverage, and how he kept Rummy in the dark when he removed Kissinger from his combo Sec of state and NSC director. Doesn’t seem bombshell-worthy, but it proves the guy had common sense until the day he died.

  2. Anonymous

    And what exactly would have been lost by waiting until flags were at full staff, (or the body was cold) for Woodward to break the embargo? When people refer to Ford as being from a more civil generation, they aren’t kidding.

  3. Bill Baar

    Sowell got it right back in 1998. The pardon was a mistake.Check Alternatives to seriousness

  4. Dan Kennedy

    Bill: Media Nation got it right back in 1975!

  5. Bill Baar

    I was opposed then and now. It would have been ok to pardon after a trial or at least after an indictment. Hitchen’s has Ford right here in Slate.

  6. minder9

    There is no purpose served by rehashing a 30 year old decision — that was made in the context of the immediacy of the times. Right, wrong, or indifferent, the pardon of Richard Nixon was a carefully considered decision made by the only man who could have done it. The result and aftermath were his burden to bear. By the way, the constitution allowed him to serve his country in exactly that manner. The fact that you or I may disagree with Ford’s decision for whatever reasons can be debated until the cows come home, but history has already taken its course. The constitutional elements have never been questioned, either in the definition of the crimes that led to the moment, nor in their ultimate legal resolution in his pardon. If Mr. Werth is still, after 30 years, unable to “get over it” and is still looking for boogie men in the closets of Whitehouse administrations, then he has indeed squandered the one opportunity Ford gave this country of ours. It seems that the only lesson he has taken from history is that just about half the voting public appear to be idiots every election we have no matter who wins…that does not bode well for the “moderation, bipartisanship, and national humility” of which Mr. Werth speaks. He paints with an indelicate brush.

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