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December 27, 2006

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A decent man. One of us. The right guy at the right time.

James Brown and Gerald Ford.

The world has a little less soul in its step tonight.

From Wikipedia:

The Ford administration, particularly Rumsfeld, was concerned about the effort by members of the Church Committee in the Senate and the Pike Committee in the House to curtail the power of U.S. intelligence agencies: "They were very specific about their effort to destroy American intelligence [capabilities]," remembers Robert Ellsworth, a U.S. diplomat. "It was Senator Church who said our intelligence agencies were 'rogue elephants.' They were supposedly out there assassinating people and playing dirty tricks and so forth...Well, that just wasn't true."

So well what was and is the problem with the lack of foreign intelligence? I'd say it started with President Ford, who allowed our human intelligence resources to be destroyed by the Democrats. He also signed off on all sorts of bills that forced him to give Vietnam up to the Communists. Sure, he was a decent man personally, but he did damage the US foreign policy in the wake of domestic scandals.

Oh, this is sad news. He was a good man, and his simple decency went a long way in healing the country.

"Very high praise for a decent man who fully deserved it."

How long is enough before it's tasteful to quibble/differ with this?

"He also signed off on all sorts of bills that forced him to give Vietnam up to the Communists."

The notion that he could have "held onto" Vietnam, unlike Nixon and Kissinger (his own Secretary of State as well) and Johnson, is utterly nonsensical. Why did Nixon decide that the war couldn't be won, and that we just needed to struggle for a "decent interval," DaveC?

"38th and only unelected president in America's history"

But won his party's nomination in 1976. This could be the second highest political honor our country can bestow. Ford may not be the last of the Republican Party tradition that started with Lincoln and Grant ran thru TR, Coolidge, Wilkie, Dewey, Eisenhower, Dirkson, but somehow I feel he represents the transition. Bush 41 and Dole needed the grudging acquiescence of the Right. Ford still had the majority of his party, and the respect and affection of the Democrats. I could have voted for him.

I really miss his kind. Now there is some nostalgia.

Gerald R Ford ...Wikipedia

Hmmm, an "America Firster" to coin a phrase. The mixed membership always surprises me. Honorable war/military service, like everyone I knew growing up.

And if I had remembered the 60s I might have liked him less. But I didn't grow up hating Republicans.

In recent years I've come to think that the Nixon pardon was a ghastly mistake - it's possible that a thorough set of trials would have closed down some of the careers that went on instead to flourish in Bush 43's administration. But that's hindsight. I thought the pardon was a good idea at the time, and I can't blame Ford for not realizing just how tenacious some of those bastards and their proteges would turn out to be.

He acted for good reasons, and out of a genuine concern for his country, not as an abstract but as a real place with real people who need some peace and security in their lives. I can't take issue with any of that, and have never lost respect for him even as I disagree with the particular decision.

As for Vietnam: DaveC, it was over, man.

Bob: I think it makes a lot of sense to regard Ford as the last in a tradition that Nixon was the first big disruption of.

In recent years I've come to think that the Nixon pardon was a ghastly mistake - it's possible that a thorough set of trials would have closed down some of the careers that went on instead to flourish in Bush 43's administration. But that's hindsight.

I agree, Nixon needed to spend a few years in federal prison, it would have headed off all sorts of badness. But yes, hindsight (not that I was old enough to remember any of it).

I'll agree with Bruce and Ugh on the pardon. The general narrative on the pardon is that it was best for the country, but hurt the Republicans. I am wondering if that is entirely backwards.

By allowing the depths of Nixon's crimes to get shielded from view, it allowed Ford to get past Nixon and nearly win the election of 1976, while contributing to the partisan divisions in viewing historical events that have been a critical part of the last few decades of history. I still know Republicans who say the biggest difference between Nixon and his Democratic predecessors was that Nixon got caught, while many Democrats (including myself) view Nixon as being more contemptuous of our democratic institutions than any other president (possibly excluding the present one).

I thought the pardon was a bad idea at the time, but have drifted. The truly interesting might-have-been is not DaveC's lunatic suggestion that Ford could've won what had been lost for years, but what would have happened to Republican fantasy conservatism had Ford won in '76. No Carter, no Reagan. Or at least, no easy 'there you go again' misdirection, no made up stories, no full-on embrace by realists. And Bob Dole is the sitting VP in 1980.

Bob Dole is the sitting VP in 1980.

Assuming no Jeb, 2008 will be only the second time since 1952 that there has been no Nixon, Dole or Bush on the republican ticket in the Presidential election.

24 years as Congressman, nicknamed "The Congressman's Congressman"; a major role on the Defense Appropriations Committee during the height of the Cold War and Vietnam;8 consecutive years as House Minority Leader.

I suspect with some googling I could assign Ford some responsibility for Vietnam and the deficit funding of same during the 60s. He and Dirkson fought the Great Society every step of the way, and likely contributed to the dynamic that frightened LBJ into Vietnam.

Just saying, around 600 people develop and determine most policy in the US; or at least that should be the case; and the "Imperial Presidency" is built from grass-roots attitudes.

I was flatly against the pardon at the time, but have drifted to the point where I only think it was probably a bad thing to do. The real mistake, imho, was not really going after Iran-Contra, compounded by pardoning all those people who, but for their pardons, would be ineligible for government service, but who have now come back to haunt us.

"They were supposedly out there assassinating people and playing dirty tricks and so forth...Well, that just wasn't true."

Thus speaks Robert F. Ellsworth.

Sorry, but Ellsworth has some questions to answer. Speaking of wikipedia, here is their article on the Church Committee findings.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_committee

The wiki page contains links to public domain copies of the Church committee findings. They include thousands of pages of documentation of incidents of assassination attempts on foreign leaders, storage of illegal biological and chemical agents, illegal spying on American citizens, illegal opening of mail and use of IRS records, etc etc etc.

"Rogue elephants" is a very kind characterization.

Who, BTW, is Robert F. Ellsworth? Here's a quote from a piece he wrote for the National Interest:

"AMERICAN PROTESTANT eschatology (with its particular interpretation of the Book of Revelation and awaited "End Times") has historically maintained that the world is moving toward an end state in which America is the chosen agent through which good will triumph over evil."

Ellsworth's somewhat questionable reading here of American political and theological history is not offered critically, but as a point of view he finds more or less congenial. Read the whole piece. Here's the cite:

http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2751/is_84/ai_n16689828

Ellsworth appears to be a nationalistic, Christian triumphalist nutjob. It's just one article, I could be wrong. In any case, he's not a guy I'd look to for a sound assessment on the oversight required for American foreign intelligence.

Others have commented on the Vietnam issue upthread.

I have no idea where you're coming from, DaveC.

RIP, Gerald Ford. He stepped into a disaster and, at least, stopped the arterial bleeding. Whatever his political position, he was a decent, straightforward human being -- a good man -- and he appeared at a time when we needed exactly that. We owe him our thanks.

Thanks -

It’s funny, but other than the pardon I really don’t remember much about Ford the president. It’s kind of sad, but I remember the SNL skits about him more than I remember Ford himself or any accomplishments as president.

Reviewing his wikipedia entry this morning, maybe this is why:

Faced with an overwhelmingly Democratic majority in Congress, the administration was hampered in its ability to pass major legislation, and Ford's vetoes were frequently overridden.

I had completely forgotten about the Helsinki Accord though… I guess that is a fitting legacy (in hindsight).

I was upset when the Ford issued his pardons. I thought it was a moral cop-out and that some retribution would be healthy for the country. I feel that way about this administratin, too. Lots of people need to have their careers ruined so they won't be inflicting themselves on us in the future.
Frank Church is a hero.

i was of two minds about the pardon at the time.

i opposed it, because i thought that more investigations were necessary, and more trials should be conducted.
plus, a less admirable motive, because nixon was a figure of loathing to me and mine, and we all felt a certain bloodlust in going after him.

and that was part of why i was of two minds. because in that day and age, politics was less of a blood-sport, and it felt unseemly to pursue vindictiveness beyond a certain measure. even as i wanted to pile on, i had a sense that piling on was unamerican.

the treatment of ex office holders is one of the things that still distinguishes us from banana republics (at any rate, it will be if bush leaves office peacefully and is not strung up by his successors).
by making the penalties for political failure lighter, you avoid giving people reasons to do literally anything to avoid failure. (it's part of why a saner time treated pows humanely; if you make capture a prelude to torture and death, then you create opponents who will fight to the death, which is stupid.)

to kids whose political consciousness was formed by the clinton impeachment this will all seem naive. we've gotten used to the idea that politics is winner-takes-all, no limits, foul on every play.

believe it or not, it wasn't always that way.

that's why i distinctly remember being of two minds.

if i had known then that atwater and rove were coming, and that cheney and rumsfeld were going to be with us thirty years later, i might have advocated executions for all of nixon's political appointees, stopping only at the gs pay-grades.

that's the problem with a breakdown in civic morals. it's very hard to see how to climb back out again.

remember--broder and the centrist-worshipping press are not culpable because they advocate those values. those were the values that nearly everyone advocated, forty years ago, and the us would be a better place if politics still operated according to them.

no--broder and the centrists are culpable for not having realized that the republicans opted out of those rules, and for letting the republicans flout the rules while they call the democrats on minor infractions.

ford. not a bad man. back when there were real moderate republicans.

Ford:

His legacy? The pardon. It was ultimately bad for the country and served more to minimize the harm that Nixon's crimes would inflict on the Republican Party (though 1974 was still a disaster and the pardon most likely cost Ford the 1976 election). Even now, we tend to think of Nixon's crimes only in the sense of Wategate, but it goes much deeper than that, which was obscured by the pardon. After all, Ford did not pardon him for anything having to do with Watergat but for any crimes committed at any time during his presidency. Link ...do grant a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 20, 1969 through August 9,1974.

There is a reason why truth commissions are a good idea -- the pardon allowed Nixon to slink away and start his second campaign of lying to remake the history of his awful presidency.

Ford himself could not do much for the 29 months he was president because of the resulting 1974 Congressional majorities. His WIN campaign buttons were topped in ridiculousness only by Carter's MEOW campaign.

As a Congressman, he was most notable for leading the attempt to impeach William Dounglas.
__________

As for DaveC's remarks, I believe every instance of this wingnuttery concerning Viet Nam must be vigorously denounced. It is evil nonsense. Ford took over in August, 1974, and at that time, the war was in a lull following the peace accords. South Viet Nam fell eight months later in April, 1975. By August, 1974, the US had spent billions training and equiping the ARVN -- they were better equiped and supplied than the NVA. ARVN was rolled over in seven weeks once the NVA started a minor push in the central highlands, which the NVA kept escalating because they were astonished at how easily the ARVN collapsed.

There was a plea for emergency aid of $700,000,000 as the ARVN was collpasing -- it would not have done any good. Ford rejected the demand -- it was not something forced on him by Democrats (though had he openly pushed for it, it would have been rejected by Congress). Contrary to right wing nonsense, the North was not "beaten" as of 1974, and then suddenly snatch victory from defeat in 1975 because ARVN was underfunded. The South was rotten to the core and collapsed despite receiving massive funding from the US for years -- no amount of money was going to make that pig fly.

Nixon and Kissinger adopted a deliberately cynical plan of pulling out of Viet Nam with enough of an interlude to hopefully avoid direct blame for the ultimate failure of the South ("peace with honor" -- heh). The collpase in 1975 was something they expected in 1973 when they signed the peace accords. Right wing fantasy just ignores the history.

Truth commission. That's exactly what we need now. The problem with the pardons Ford gave is that they bandaged the wound, an act that actually prevented healing, when a cauterization was needed. I remember the debate at the time. The pro-pardon arguement was that the pardons would help the nation heal from the trauma. I suppose, becuase I was young at the time, I didn't feel all that traumatized. The good guys won, the bad guys lost, now the bad guys should get punished and after that we move on. That's how I saw it. Instead the bad guys got off which allowed the nation to pretend that nothing much had happened and that nothing much needed to be faced or learned. So nothing was faced and nothing was learned and the ground was prepared for the right wing lunatic fringe takeover of the Republican party. Now it is esential that we as a nation face up to the reality of the Republican party, every nasty bit of it, the extremist political views, the unprinicpled political practices, the incompetence, the corruption, the whole hog. And we must not give in to people who want to "heal" or be "centrist" by pretending that the Bush years weren't so bad or that the Repblican party leadership isn't so bad or that extremists like O'Reilly, Limbaugh etc are just joking etc. This really isn't a political issue. it isn't about left and right. It's about repudiating authoritarianism and reasserting the Constitution. The current state of the political right in this country is a reflection on our national character. We let oursleves get into this condition. We need to face up to the worst of our national personlity this time in the same way that a person who does wrong needs to face the worst of their character before they can grow up and move on.

lily, i agree with you now, though i might not have agreed with you then.

and even on the historical question, i'm starting to wonder whether my memory is tainted by consoling narrative. have a look at duncan black's link to a time magazine article written right after the pardons.

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,908732,00.html

it was an eye-opener for me to read it now, even though i will surely have read it then.

yup, the memory's going, sure enough.

"But that's hindsight. I thought the pardon was a good idea at the time, and I can't blame Ford for not realizing just how tenacious some of those bastards and their proteges would turn out to be."

I didn't. I can. I did.

"He acted for good reasons,"

He was still defending Nixon's innocence until the last few days before the last few days. These were not good reasons; the very best that could be said was that he was stupid and naive beyond reason.

The fact that a man isn't remotely as bad as Richard Nixon or G. W. Bush (or Ronald Reagan) isn't reason for praise. And that's what much of the praise boils down to: oh, he was opposed to everything we are for: civil rights laws, aid to the poor, not rewarding corrupt Republican lobbyists, but he wasn't as bad as Nixon/Bush isn't much of a obit.

As a Congressman, he was a typical country-club Republican, who did little good for anyone. Think John Boehner, but in the days before abortion was an issue. He fought every Democratic issue there was, more or less. You name it, he was against it.

As a President, he was largely a joke, with WIN, and little more on his record, save becoming ever more conservative in the face of Reagan.

Then the pardon. This should never be forgiven. The damage was incalculable.

If the pardon hadn't happened, we might never have had Iran-Contra. Far more of the criminal Republican infrastructure could possibly have been dismantled. Future Reagan and Bush criminals could have been jailed in the future place. And Nixon's attempts to rehabilitate himself couldn't have gotten remotely as far as they did.

This should never be forgiven.

And as an ex-President, Ford was the worst of the modern era. Even Nixon looks good in comparison; although desperately trying to salvage his reputation, Nixon did at least write book after book, and try to convey his thoughts on policy.

Ford had no thoughts on policy. He did nothing to make the world, or his country, a better place, in retirement. Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, G. H. W. Bush: all in their way worked for charities or for international peace or otherwise for good.

Gerald Ford imply sold his ability to boost Republican candidates to the highest bidder, sold his ability to speak to the highest bidder, and played golf. Period, end of story. As an ex-President, he was the most disgraceful and worst; totally self-centered, year after year, decade after decade. A 100% waste.

That seems pretty indecent to me.

Was Ford better than Nixon and G. W. Bush? Yes. But that's just not a low bar to set for praise, it's no reason for praise whatever. Whatever.

Why not also praise the decency and good points of Herbert Hoover, Warren G. Harding, Franklin Pierce and James Polk, while we're at it? They weren't as bad as G. W. Bush, either.

"Ford took over in August, 1974, and at that time, the war was in a lull following the peace accords."

And it should be emphasized that no American troops were left fighting it, and no American planes were still flying against the North Vietnamese. The war was over for America; we'd done what Nixon planned and dragged out: we'd "Vietnamized" it, and put their own fate in their own hands.

He knew perfectly well, of course, as is endlessly documented in the White House tapes, and in endless memos and records, that the South couldn't survive, that it was just a matter of time before the North overwhelmed them -- not because of any material or monetary lack, but simply because the Southern regime lacked any legitimacy whatever, lacked even a coherent claim of legitimacy, and was totally corrupt and incompetent.

Nixon got his decent interval. The story is endlessly documented, and you can read thousands of volumes on the subject.

But you'll still get huge Big Lies from poor deluded, ignorant, people like DaveC, about it. Sad.

so i take it you settled on an answer to your 1:23 a.m.?

Best not to let impulsive responses settle into unconsidered consensus and harden, thinks me.

I'd challenge everyone who has praise for Ford to look into his Congressional record, and see how it looks in the weighing.

And again: sure, he was a more decent man than Nixon or G. W. Bush, or certain other people. This is not reason for praise. It's simply evidence that recent years have so shell-shocked people with horror that even lousy people and crappy Presidents look like saints in comparison.

But G. W. Bush's record still doesn't make Franklin Pierce a good President, and neither does it make Jerry Ford a paragon of virtue.

(Comparing John Boehner to Tom DeLay doesn't make Boehner a very decent man, either; these sort of comparisons simply mean that the observer is shell-shocked out of reasonable perspective.)

I'm in one hundred percent agreement with Gary's (and others') response on Viet Nam. What I wonder is the percentage of the public, and also of the voting public, that believes the Big Lie ["we coulda won, but..."].

One reason I ask is that it still seems to terrify the likes of Kevin Drum today -- enough to make him lose his moral and political compass out of fear of a future (or now-developing) Iraq Big Lie.

What I wonder is the percentage of the public, and also of the voting public, that believes the Big Lie ["we coulda won, but..."].

99% of the people at Bizarro World.

"we coulda won vietnam if the liberals hadn't stabbed us in the back"

"gerald ford was a decent if unremarkable man who was representative of republicanism in its mid-century eisenhower form before it went off the deep end at the hands of atwater and reagan."

these may both be false, and may even be equally false.

but i don't think the propagation of the second is as pernicious as the propagation of the first, nor as deserving of dudgeon.

Gary, after your 2:15 PM post, I hope you won't complain about the "eulogies" delivered on RedState, etc. for Jimmy Carter the day he passes on to that great big peanut farm in the sky.

"...I hope you won't complain about the 'eulogies' delivered on RedState, etc. for Jimmy Carter the day he passes on to that great big peanut farm in the sky."

I tend to limit my King Canute stances, in any case.

I'm fairly sure that nothing I say will temper RedState and allies' kind words about the eventually late Jimmy Carter.

I would appreciate accuracy in stating facts, just as I don't intend to mis-state anything about Gerald Ford, and hope I didn't about Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, and so on. But I won't particularly expect that, either.

"but i don't think the propagation of the second is as pernicious as the propagation of the first, nor as deserving of dudgeon."

I agree. And by comparison, Richard Nixon was a monster. Jerry Ford was certainly not. It's just that: "so&so was not a monster!" is not usually considered significant praise.

Similarly, I wouldn't say that your description of Ford was particularly false. But I do see it -- and more significantly, the general take on Ford today -- as 98% a product of contemporary context, in which everyone compares him to G. W. Bush, and to Richard Nixon, and accurately observes: "why, Ford wasn't remotely as bad as these guys; why, in comparison, he looks great!"

Which is true. And not the measure history, or anyone interested in truth and accurate appraisal, should use.

Current context is, in this case, a distortion field.

By way of comparison, for instance, Grant was thought fairly ill of after his presidency, and through his death, but in the full context of history, we see that the corruption in his time was relatively minor, and that most of the negative opinions come from straight out racism and anger at Grant's attempts (limited as they were) to do right by the former slaves; his Presidency was rather heroic in that regard, instead, and it wasn't recognized until relatively recently, due to pure racism. Contemporary context distorted what people thought of Grant, too (though he did get a nice Tomb).

Let me put things another way: Gerald Ford was the first President who thought: "say, that Donald Rumsfeld would make a great Secretary of Defense!" and that Richard Cheney was the guy who should be Presidential Chief of Staff. His chief of staff before Cheney was Alexander Haig, whom he then sent off to be Supreme Commander of NATO.

Great, decent, instincts, eh?

Taylor Marsh also has a good take.

"How long is enough before it's tasteful to quibble/differ with this?" - Gary Farber at 1:23 am

"As a President, he was largely a joke, with WIN, and little more on his record, save becoming ever more conservative in the face of Reagan." Gary Farber at 2:15 pm

To answer your question: about 12 hours, apparently.

And having to keep your mouth shut those 12 hours means you have to compensate for that horrid, horrid self-denial by spouting six postings in less than 2 hours.

You're saying that it's too soon to disagree with a stream of comments about what a wonderful decent guy he was?

It's not personal, you know; people are praising him for what he did in his jobs; I'm pointing out things he shouldn't be praised for.

I didn't even get into his disgraceful attempt to impeach William O. Douglas on Nixon's secret orders. Anyone want to explain how "decent" that was?

Are we obligated to not discuss these things for another couple of days, long enough for the consensus to set? And also not to reply to other comments?

What are the rules in this? We should be so reverent towards ex-Presidents that criticism of them should be spoken in hushed tones, or not said at all? We should wait three days, while people who want to testify to his goodness can prattle on endlessly? Or what?

"And having to keep your mouth shut those 12 hours means you have to compensate for that horrid, horrid self-denial by spouting six postings in less than 2 hours."

Feel free to tell me on substance where I'm wrong. Because otherwise it's news to me that "Gary Farber makes 6 comments in 2 hours!" is a shattering bulletin to the blog world, and I'm not inclined to feel like I'm breaking into shockingly new prolificity.

I amn't clear why a discussion of Presidential pros and cons should go in the direction of personal attacks on the commenter, though.

"It's not personal, you know."

Really?

"Great, decent, instincts, eh?" isn't personal?

And, yeah, I'll cop to "personal feelings" on this one.

I dislike your tone about how long it has to be before you can start blasting away - as if you're displaying a higher order of honesty and moral uprightness, by not indulging in that silly "nil nisi bonum" stuff.

And I don't know what the point of this exercise in pro-active self-righteousness is: we are all perfectly aware that Ford pardoned Nixon. We are all perfectly aware that he was a Republican, not a Democrat, and therefore (surprise!) supported things that a Demcorat would not support.

That doesn't change the fact that he did the best he could, did what he thought was best for the country, and while a lot us don't agree with everything he did, or most of what he did, or whatever, we can disagree and criticize without having to vilify him in the process. He doesn't deserve vilification. Disagreement, criticism, even vehement criticism, sure.

But to unload on him, assume his villiany, make him the sineater of all the 'pubs still living - what does that prove, other than that you're just as capable as any LGF/Powerline/winger of demonizing your political opponents?

Accusations of demonization aren't quite fair, here. Gary brought up a long list of items from Ford's record in support of his opinion.

You feel his actions "went a long way in healing the country." A better rebuttal to Gary would be to list those things in Ford's record that make you feel that.

"forced him to give Vietnam up to the Communists"

Dear God some people have a tenuous grasp.

That is all.

"That doesn't change the fact that he did the best he could, did what he thought was best for the country, and while a lot us don't agree with everything he did, or most of what he did, or whatever, we can disagree and criticize without having to vilify him in the process."

One could say exactly the same of G. W. Bush. Why do people here vilify him so?

I'd say that I'm sorry for the temerity of having a different opinion than you, but I'm afraid I don't. I have a different opinion; life is hard.

"make him the sineater of all the 'pubs still living"

Now you're simply making up something silly.

"And I don't know what the point of this exercise"

What's the point of anyone giving their opinion online? What's the point of your responding to my comment?

I kinda think it's to say what we think. So now you know.

Mind, I think it's fine for you to state your opinion. I'm not clear what your point is, other than "you have a different opinion than mine! I am offended, so clearly you shouldn't have said anything!"

I could find some back-handed compliments to pay Jerry Ford, but I don't know what that would "prove," either. Do people generally only post proofs here? I hadn't noticed. (In other words, "what does that prove?" is up there with "oh yeah?" as a cogent rebuttal.)

I'm frankly a little startled at someone having "personal feelings" about Jerry Ford, but, okay, you're entitled. You're not entitled, so far as I'm aware, to be shielded from different opinions, though.

On a personal basis, I'm sorry you're bothered; on the substance, well, you'll just have to live with the fact that some people don't have kind opinions about Jerry Ford. If I get something factually wrong about him, please do correct me.

i'm not old enough to know if the country needed "healing" or not, after Watergate. but, i surely hope, that if i'm ever convicted of breaking the law, that the governor will step in and pardon me of everything i've ever done, in the name of "healing" the great state of North Carolina. because i'd surely hate that the punishment for my crime would be a burden on anyone. no, i think it'd be best if we all just had a big group hug and then let me scurry off to write my memoirs.

(subtle enough?)

i'm not old enough to know if the country needed "healing" or not

I turned 50 this year. I am, just, old enough to remember if the country needed healing, or not.

Nixon's resignation came at the end of just over 10 years of more or less uninterrupted upheavals and disturbances in the US. Those disturbances included assassinations, riots, and acts of political and social violence of all kinds. People were killed. Buildings were blown up. Significant parts of major American cities were burned to the ground.

And, last but not least, the President was shown to had engineered a systematic program of criminal activities to suppress his political opponents.

As divisive as things are now, and they are, they are nothing like they were then. Trust me.

So, yes, the country did need healing.

I recognize all of the things Gary and others lay at the feet of Ford, and I recognize the important business that was left unfinished by the pardon of Nixon. In spite of all that, it is still quite easy for me to say that Ford was a decent man, and his decency was an enormous help to the nation.

Ford did not manipulate the institutions of the government to serve his own, personal, political ends. He did not call on the intelligence and law enforcement agencies to harrass his opponents. He was not venally and criminally corrupt. He didn't make your skin crawl every time he spoke in public.

That is, I will grant you, a pretty low bar for decency, but it is the bar that had to be met at the time. He met it. Believe me when I say that it was a genuine blessing.

Thanks -

So, yes, the country did need healing.

i understand what you're saying, and i appreciate that your perspective here is probably more valid than mine (i was 5 at the time). but i still don't buy it.

it seems to me that all the various things that were in upheaval in the 60's were all wrapping-up or fizzling-out on their own, by the mid-70's. the war in Vietnam was essentially over, the civil rights movement was losing urgency, violence was going out of fashion, etc.. i don't see how Nixon getting out of jail free had anything to do with healing those wounds.

but, of course, i was more interested in model airplanes, at the time. maybe i'd feel differently if i was a few years older.

I heard one of NPR's political commentators opine about Ford, primarily about the pardon. At the time, he strongly disagreed with it and wrote a book that trashed Ford even before his presidency was ended. Over time he's come to realize that perhaps his judgment was wrong. He and Ford had a number of conversations over the next few decades, and Ford's main stated reason for the pardon is that a trial of Nixon would have been front-page news for maybe 5 years, and governing the country in that environment might have been pretty difficult. Just think of OJ or Monica for 5 years. He might have had a point.

For my part, I didn't have strong feelings about it then (I've just turned 60, ugh) and I continue to not have strong feelings now. It's been fun reading all (well, almost all) the different points here.

As for the general divisiveness of the 70's versus more recently, my sense of it is that things are worse now. Yes, there were more dramatic situations then, but we still had the sense both parties were fundamentally decent. IIRC, it was republicans in congress that sealed Nixon's fate, along with approval ratings in the 20's. Can anyone imagine the current GOP impeaching Bush? Or even over-riding a veto?

Interesting discussion. Ford seemed like a non-entity to me, and reading everything about him now reinforces that. But it seems that a lot of the praise for Ford is actually a longing for Republicans like that who might actually step in now, so it shouldn't necessarily be taken as lionizing Ford. Of course, historical accuracy is important, but it sometimes seems that such accuracy ends up making the differences between Ford and Nixon too small to be important.

A lot of the obituaries contrast Ford's personal decency with his utter obliviousness to the effects of legislation. I've read too much to remember where, but one recollection was that Ford would probably take the shirt off of his back to give to some kid who didn't have one, and then go in and vote against a school lunch program. That ability to disassociate individual goodwill from governmental goodwill is baffling to me, but that seems to be a bedrock of conservative thought.

I do admit that because Ford was such a non-entity, I have bought into the 'we needed healing' notion and it is interesting that he should die at this moment at a time when a lot of people are arguing that things are too divisive in the country now.

"So, yes, the country did need healing."

It did, and that's the crying shame: Ford didn't give it. Witness that the biggest issue in Ford's obits and discussion thereof is arguing about the pardon.

Still.

One wouldn't be doing that if the pardon had actually healed the country. In fact, the pardon split a country that had already overwhelmingly concluded Nixon's guilt (the only reason he resigned, and that impeachment was an absolute certainty).

Matt Yglesias explained quite well here why the pardon didn't and couldn't work, and what would actually have done it, in which case I'd be praising Ford for having done that.

I wrote more words over at Unfogged, including this:

Ford: not insane, not criminal, and didn't blow up the world (or any place larger than the vicinity of the Mayaguez).

Or: Ford: much less despicable than Nixon, Reagan, or G. W. Bush!

If those are his epitaphs, I'll sign on. I just think it's not terribly high praise.

And I still think he deserved to have been beaten (read that as you will) for the pardon.

As Republican Presidents of the 20th Century go, I'd put Eisenhower considerably ahead of him. He's not even in the same league as TR. Hoover had worse effects, though was otherwise certainly as "decent" and personally honest and commendable personally as Ford, and was probably brighter. He was even less inspiring than Coolidge, but more competent than Harding. More forgettable than Taft.

Still winds up as: Ford! Not in the last rank of Republican Presidents!

And there's still the long list of things he left us with, including that Douglas impeachment effort, Rumsfeld and Cheney, WIN, the defense of Nixon until it couldn't go on (until the last weekend before Nixon resigned!), and so on.

Here is a nice thought:

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) said Ford believed "bipartisanship was not an empty platitude, but a way to govern."

"President Ford understood that we may have our differences, but what unites us as Americans is what is truly important," Lieberman said. "President Ford made America stronger and greater and we are indebted to his patriotic leadership."

And in fact, if you love Jerry Ford, what's to dislike about Joe Lieberman? And if you love Lieberman, you're going to love Ford.

"...the war in Vietnam was essentially over,"

A guy named Jerry Ford had something to say about that in 1975, as it happens:

On April 23, 1975, in a speech at Tulane University, Ford announced that the war in Vietnam was "finished as far as America is concerned."

A week later, Saigon fell to the communists and the long war was over.

Ford later came to the view that U.S. policy in Vietnam was mistaken. He blamed this on an unthinking inheritance of French colonial policy. "The French had the wrong policy, and we inherited it, and our State Department was not smart enough to realize that we should have been more objective about our policy in Vietnam," Ford said in the 2004 interview with The Post. Asked if the United States should have withdrawn sooner than it did, he said: "Absolutely, in retrospect. Now, I wasn't strong enough to make that decision while I was in the White House but in reflection, there is no question."

Indeed.

How long is enough before it's tasteful to quibble/differ with this?

Well, RR wasn’t yet cold. Go for it – Oh, you have…

As I said, I don’t have a strong opinion, rather, little distinct memory. It seems like a tough time, and he did OK. Maybe he sucked, I’m not sure. I’ll give it more thought/research.

He was an ex-President, enough said. Crap – I don’t hold to that standard with Carter. I think he is an ass-hat. Damned Interwebs…

When Clinton dies, I hope to be a touch more classy. Hold me to it…

"I've read too much to remember where, but one recollection was that Ford would probably take the shirt off of his back to give to some kid who didn't have one, and then go in and vote against a school lunch program."

The NY Times:

Mr. terHorst, the biographer, puzzled over the seeming contradiction between the president’s personal and professional philosophies: “The problem with him — he doesn’t like to be kidded about it — but the fact is, this guy would, if he saw a school kid in front of the White House who needed clothing, if he was the right size, he’d give him the shirt off his back, literally. Then he’d go right in the White House and veto the school lunch bill.”

John Hersey, after spending a week in close observation of the president, wrote in The New York Times Magazine of April 20, 1975: “What is it in him?”

“Is it an inability to extend compassion far beyond the faces directly in view?,” Mr. Hersey wrote. “Is it a failure of imagination? Is it something obdurate he was born with, alongside the energy and serenity?”

The answer seemed to be a belief — one Mr. Ford was schooled in if not born with — in the essential dignity of human struggle. “Everything didn’t turn to gold just because I did it,” he remarked. “I had this foundation, and I had been brought up with the training that — and this is an oversimplification, but I think it’s indicative — the harder you work, the luckier you are. And whether it was in such things as the Boy Scouts or athletics or academics, I worked like hell.”

There were those who contended, as did Richard Reeves, the author of a critical biography, that Mr. Ford had a “tragic gap” in his understanding of such crucial matters as the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal.

Well, I wasn't born when Ford pardoned Nixon so I think I shan't comment on that. I do want to say that, whatever my feelings on the Nixon pardon, this...

The real mistake, imho, was not really going after Iran-Contra, compounded by pardoning all those people who, but for their pardons, would be ineligible for government service, but who have now come back to haunt us.

...is exactly right.

He and Ford had a number of conversations over the next few decades, and Ford's main stated reason for the pardon is that a trial of Nixon would have been front-page news for maybe 5 years, and governing the country in that environment might have been pretty difficult. Just think of OJ or Monica for 5 years. He might have had a point.

And? What of it? Leaving Monica out of it, the other two were actually accused of serious, serious crimes. And when people are accused of serious crimes, they should be tried for them, the effect on front-page news be damned.

Huh. I'm hardly surprised that Jeralyn Merritt agrees that the pardon was a bad idea, but I'm a little startled that "Captain Ed" feels that way.

"And when people are accused of serious crimes, they should be tried for them, the effect on front-page news be damned."

Unsuprisingly, I agree. And the same line was trotted out as to why Reagan shouldn't be impeached, or at least have a committee look into it -- it would upset the nation! (And G. H. W. Bush got away with his mass pardon of Iran-Contra felons, which had the additional benefit of helping keep his knowledge, as found by prosecutor Welch, from coming up much.)

terHorst was Ford's first Press Secretary, wasn't he? He resigned in protest after the pardon.

I dislike trashing someone newly dead. It's discourteous. Wait a day: it's not like that person's going anywhere, or like the things you want to trash them for are going to change.

I have no problem with criticizing Ford. But slamming him because he set a precedent is blaming him for something he didn't do. Slamming him because Rumsfeld and Cheney turned out to be monsters is blaming him for something he not only didn't do but couldn't have predicted.

The failure to go after Iran-Contra's felons wasn't Ford's fault: it was Bush I's fault, for pardoning them, and Congress' fault (including the Democrats in charge) for agreeing to give Iran-Contra witnesses immunity. And the Democrats, at least, were thinking only in terms of getting people to testify at hearings, which they presumed wouldn't have happened if immunity wasn't granted. Maybe it's John Kerry's fault, for letting the BCCI matter drop because he wasn't getting any cooperation from anyone to continue it, and wasn't imaginative enough or stubborn enough to come up with alternative tactics.

There's a lot of blame to go around, and it's odd to claim that, if Ford hadn't pardoned Nixon, then Bush would never have pardoned the Iran-Contra felons. We can't know that, since we can't know what effect prosecuting Nixon and putting him in prison would have had. It would have been a trial that dominated the news for months, maybe a year. It would have kept the scandal alive as a political issue - and if you think the country would have liked that, or been served by that, while the war in Vietnam was still ongoing, while inflation and the oil embargo were huge issues, then you need to present your reasoning. I can definitely see the electorate getting sick of the whole thing, and wondering why the White House wasn't devoting all its time to issues that affected people, instead of to Nixon's trial.

Let me be clear that I wanted Nixon in jail. I opposed the pardon, and it undermined my liking for Ford right away.

What I'm saying is, we can't possibly know what the political effects would have been. It's just as likely that Congress wouldn't have gone after Iran-Contra even as hard as it did, in order to "spare America another multi-year legal battle, and diverting governmental focus from the issues that really mattered to Americans, like we had when Nixon was on trial."

CaseyL, the claim seems to be that if Nixon hadn't been pardoned, Iran-Contra wouldn't have happened, not that Congress would have investigated harder or whatever you're arguing against.

i don't see how Nixon getting out of jail free had anything to do with healing those wounds.

I'm not sure it did. I'm not sure the pardon was a good thing or not. That isn't really where I wanted to go.

I guess my point was that Gerald Ford not being a venal, mendacious bastard, in spite of what other shortcomings he had, was a real help to the nation. Don't know if wounds were healed, exactly, but at least there was a brief pause in the knife fight.

Can anyone imagine the current GOP impeaching Bush? Or even over-riding a veto?

cw, you have a damned good point.

Thanks -

"CaseyL, the claim seems to be that if Nixon hadn't been pardoned, Iran-Contra wouldn't have happened..."

OK, but why wouldn't Iran-Contra have happened?

Why wouldn't have Reagan-Bush entered into secret negotiations with Iran? Why wouldn't Reagan-Bush have used Noriega and other druglords as conduits of cash and weapons to fund the Contras?

Because the CIA wouldn't have cooperated? Why not?

Because Reagan-Bush wouldn't have supported the Contras? Why not?

Because Reagan-Bush, or William Casey, would have been worried about getting caught? Why?

Actually, the best argument for Iran-Contra never happening would be Ford winning in '76.

If Ford had won in '76, he would not have pressured the Shah into relaxing his police state, and therefore the Shah would never have fallen, and the Islamic Revolution in Iran would never have taken place. Iran would have had no reason to enter into a conspiracy to fund the Contras, since the US would have had no reason to cut off relations with Iran and Iran would not have needed to hide whatever money or arms it got from the US.

Or are you saying that, if Ford would have won in '76, Reagan would not have won in '80? That's a good argument, since Ford would have been the victim of the ongoing economic difficulties, and a sitting duck for whoever the Democrats nominated in '80.

The only way I can see Iran-Contra "never happening" is if Reagan wasn't elected in '80; and the only way I can see that happening is if Ford won in '76.

Is that your argument as well?

Dammit! Forgot to close the italics tag. Help!

Italiouto!

He and Ford had a number of conversations over the next few decades, and Ford's main stated reason for the pardon is that a trial of Nixon would have been front-page news for maybe 5 years, and governing the country in that environment might have been pretty difficult. Just think of OJ or Monica for 5 years. He might have had a point.

As if this would have been bad for the country -- no, it would have been hell for the Republican Party. It would have helped the country. Ford was a hypocrite for ascribing his purpose to protecting the country.

In addition to seconding everything Gary said (and I was initially worried in my first post about being too long winded or harsh), let me re-emphasize a point.

The pardon had the effect of limiting inquiry into the sickness of the Nixon presidency to only the Watergate coverup, and then only partially.

The standard buzz about Nixon is that he was akin to a tragic figure -- a man with great capability and vision marred by a tragic flaw. That is utter crap. Yes he was talented -- in the same manner as any other highly successful crook.

Nixon engaged in a pattern of criminal behavior that went far beyond the Watergate cover up. The impeachment proceedings were limited to Watergate for reasons of focusing the trial to the hottest and most easily proved issue. And remember that the impeachment proceeding was hotly contested until the discovery of the smoking gun tape -- Nixon resigned only a week later, and the pardon was only a month after that.

There was no further public inquiry as to Nixon's crimes other than the House impeachment hearings, which were highly partisan.

After his resignation and pardon, Nixon spent years in court trying to prevent disclosure of records from his presidency -- he lost, but delayed disclosure until well after the Nixon rehabilitation nonsense was underway. It was literally years before the extent of Nixon's bad behavior was fully understood.

Examples of Nixon's crimes? Systematic use of the FBA and IRS to harass his "enemies." The massive illegal wars in Cambodia and Laos --illegal as in Congress explicitly cut off funding, and he waged them anyway. Petty things like looting hundreds of thousands in government funds for work on his San Clemente home. The huge cash slush funds used for all sorts of crazed purposes. All pardoned. Some of these we know about because other figures in the administration were convicted of the crimes -- again, those crimes were only a fraction of the illegality. People forget that essentially the entire senior leadership of the Nixon administration went to jail.

Nixon was the original architect of the imperial presidency -- what we see as so frightening about Bush was standard fare for Nixon. But it was largely forgotten and buried because of the pardon. Oliver North and his buddies were Nixon's progeny - the lawlessness of the Reagan White House with regard to Iran/contra was simply a continuation of Nixonian principles.

Nixon openly stated his philosophy --

"When the president does it that means that it is not illegal."

"Under the doctrine of the separation of powers, the manner in which the president personally exercises his assigned executive powers is not subject to questioning by another branch of government."

At least the man could articulate, unlike the "decider."

Rather than the excesses of Nixon's philosophy, which resulted in numerous crimes, being exposed and the ideology killed, it instead lived to see another day. It is now the dominant philosphy of the Republican Party with regard to Republican presidents.

Is anyone advocating that "for the good of the country," we just let Bush finish out his term and not conduct the inquiries into his lawlessness that are set to gear up in 2007? The same revulsion one feels for that concept applies to the Ford pardon.

Phil,
And? What of it?

My wife would certainly agree with you. She wanted Nixon strung up. Her dad, on the other hand, died believing Nixon had been framed. Hoo-eee, interesting dinner time at her house!

My point wasn't to compare the crimes of OJ and Monica with anyone else's. My point is that a Nixon impeachment would have been on ongoing media circus for a very long time, potentially bringing out the worst in just about everyone. We can all, in hindsight, see patterns and make conjectures about what might have happened if only... I'm sure I could reasonably come up with some dismal consequences of not pardoning him.

While we're listing Nixon's crimes, don't forget my favorite: the plan to bomb the Brookings Institution.

"but we still had the sense both parties were fundamentally decent. IIRC"

The mid-70s are pretty vague for me, I don't remember Ford well. There were long periods in which I lived without TV or newspapers.

But I watched the Impeachment Hearings in the House, and I distinctly remember Trent Lott as a backbencher...and the way Lott looked at Barbara Jordan, and Pete Rodino, and Robert Drinan...and Barbara Jordan.

I don't think I can say that in the early 60s there weren't a lot of Americans that deserved to be hated. I hated me some, and they weren't really Republicans or Vietnam war supporters. After Jim Crow officially and legally ended, I did not believe those people changed their hearts with the stroke of a pen, even if many changed their party affiliations. I hated Trent Lott.

I was a child, (I'm from 1962) but I remember being utterly suprised that something like a pardon existed. Not the Dutch way.... but at the time I figured it was the custom of a far away different country and everybody knew they had weird customs in farfromhome-istan.

Timingwise I am more reminded of the appeal of Saddam. He will now be killed for a minor crime and all investigations in what really happened will be off or hampered.

(minor crime compared to the other things he did, of course I don't think killing several people is a minor crime)

Apparently Bill Bennett doesn't believe in that nil nisi bonum stuff either.

At Ford's death, he should receive praise for the good things he did and criticism should be made at another time, but he should not be receiving false praise for the bad things he did.

And there is a lot of that going on with the pardon nonsense. Those who espouse that line of thought are in the same intellectual camp as those who urge Democrats not to conduct "vengeful" hearings in 2007 into past bad behavior by Bush, but to just focus on the future. Or who claim it does not matter how we were lied into the Iraq war -- only that we focus on how to solve the problem. Because it's for the "good of the country" and we have to "heal our partisan divides." Blech.

As I think back to the 1970s and Watergate, it occurs to me that my fond memories of Gerald Ford, whom I had no special feelings for at the time, are like my fond memories of disco.

In other words, I was not fond of disco but it sure was a diversion from the Hell's Angels taking their bouncer role a little too seriously at Altamont, and Mama Jim, Jimi Morrison, and Cass Hendrix choking on their own vomit, otherwise known as a bologna sandwich.

Hilzoy reminds us of the plan to bomb the Brookings, which reminds me of why I wanted Nixon on trial. And, I suppose having the baby reptiles Cheney and Rumsfeld as underlings should be a cautionary tale regarding Ford. It must have been like watching those cute velociraptors hatching in "Jurassic Park". A marvel of cloning, but you just knew someone was going to be eaten.

But, still, I think Ford knew how to handle reptiles. It's tough for a croc like Bush to stifle his fellow big lizards.

See, what I love is those who didn't so much mind Nixon for wanting to blow up the Brookings, but thought his signing the bill authorizing the EPA and then NOT blowing IT up was his real crime.

Was it Gerald Ford who said "Our long national nightmare is over!"? I can see the young George Bush, Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey, Rupert Murdoch, Tom Delay, Grover Norquist and the rest saying to themselves:

"We need to go back to sleep and start an even better and longer nightmare!"

After bookmarking the Trotsky and adjusting their platform shoes.

Dmbeaster: "The huge cash slush funds used for all sorts of crazed purposes."

The Huston Plan.

I still remember the protestors who were rounded up and held in RFK Stadium (no place else was deemed large enough), and the tanks on the streets of Washington, events which have pretty much gone down the memory hole.

Otherwise, what you said.

cw: "My point is that a Nixon impeachment would have been on ongoing media circus for a very long time, potentially bringing out the worst in just about everyone."

Probably we shouldn't have held the Nuremberg Trials, too. Same argument. It was bound to particularly upset Germans we wanted on our side, wasn't it?

Elizabeth Holtzman was my Congressional Rep., by the way, and I was a volunteer for her on various occasions, including in her office, around that time.

"As I think back to the 1970s and Watergate, it occurs to me that my fond memories of Gerald Ford, whom I had no special feelings for at the time, are like my fond memories of disco."

I think it's a lot like the old joke, myself. Which old joke? The one about the man who kept hitting himself on the head with a hammer. "Why are you doing that?," he's asked. "Because it feels so good when it stops."

When the the hammer of Nixon stopped hitting us in the head, it felt good.

Lots of people associate that with Gerald Ford. He was the stopped hammer of the presidency.

Some therefore are very fond of the hammer; others feel that the stopped hammer isn't what should get credit.

I did, in fact, wait a day until criticizing Ford, by the way, and only in response to gallons and gallons of assertions about him (and in some offhand comments in a blog comment thread; I didn't even bother to make a post at my own blog, let alone leap to make one as soon as I'd heard he died).

Tom DeLay. Not "Delay." His name is not a verb.

"His name is not a verb."

Boy, does that bring back memories of a really bad ESPN commercial featuring Dick Vitale commenting upon Tim Duncan.

His name is not a verb.

And yet it should be...

His name is not a verb

it's French, though.

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