Our Long National Nightmare Is Not Over

In Cry
Dec 30th, 2006

With the passing of ex-President Gerald Ford the day after Christmas, the stories and obituaries about the man flooded the printed and television media as well as the Internet. We’ve been hearing about how great a football player he was, the starting center on two undefeated University of Michigan teams (in the early 1930s). We’ve read about his days in the navy during World War II and about how he almost went overboard during Halsey’s famous typhoon. After the war, he served as a U.S. Representative for twenty-four years with over eight of those years being the House Minority Leader. He also served on the Warren Commission which investigated President Kennedy’s assignation and was the last surviving member of the commission. He got us out of Vietnam, was president during the Mayaguez incident and was the subject of two assignation attempts. Then there are of course the many instances in which he was portrayed as a bumbling klutz, especially by Chevy Chase on early shows of Saturday Night Live.

There is also his well know wife Betty Ford who founded the now world famous Betty Ford Center. And most important of all was his accession to the presidency after the resignation of Richard Nixon. But the one thing that keeps getting brought up is the notion that Gerald Ford was this great healer for the country. That he was somehow able to bury forever the travesty of the Watergate Scandal by simply pardoning Nixon. That pardoning Nixon would somehow be better for the country because it would allow all Americans the ability to “move on.” After taking the oath of office, Ford addressed the nation and said, “Our long national nightmare is over.” Well for the record, “moving on” is overrated and “Our long national nightmare” is not over.

By pardoning Nixon, Ford may have believed that he was helping to heal the country but what he was actually doing was usurping justice. Because he believed it was more important to heal, a most vile and despicable man was never punished for the crimes he committed. And not just any crimes, not crimes committed against individuals, these were crimes committed against all of us as Americans and against our Constitution. In his remarks after taking the oath and immediately after saying, “Our long national nightmare is over” Ford continued, “Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule.” If he truly believed that, he would have let the laws take over and allowed Nixon be prosecuted for the crimes which he had committed. Instead he was hypocritical. If actions speak louder than words; his words were commendable but his actions were deplorable. What he demonstrated was that our government was indeed made up of men; men who wield great power and who can use that power to circumvent the law and thus the will of the people.

Fast forward almost thirty years from the Nixon resignation and you find another president who feels he is above the law. President Bush is the new Richard Nixon. And we only have Gerald Ford to thank for it. If you look back, a lot of the same characters appear in the three administrations of Nixon, Ford, and current President Bush. But the two that stand out most are Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Cheney was a Deputy Assistant to Nixon, Ford’s Chief of Staff and Bush’s Vice President. Rumsfeld was an Assistant to President Nixon, Ford’s Chief of Staff and later his Secretary of Defense, and Bush’s Secretary of Defense. What these two men learned during the administrations of Nixon and Ford was that men could be above the law. They learned that the laws of our country could be broken by the president and that the president would never be held accountable.

There has been plenty of talk about impeaching President Bush now that the Democrats have taken back control of both chambers of the Congress. Nancy Pelosi, who will be the new speaker of the house, says that impeachment is “off the table.” Why? On “60 Minutes” she said, “It is a waste of time… making them lame ducks is good enough for me.”1 Whatever happened to justice in this country, whatever happened to accountability? Do we decide not to try and convict Ken Lay if we somehow knew that right before he was to serve his time, he’d die? Why is turning these men into lame ducks an acceptable outcome? They need to be held accountable, something that didn’t happen with Nixon. They need to be turned into examples of what happens to men when they think that they are above our laws. We need to do this to prevent the next Richard Nixon or the next George W. Bush. George W. Bush and his assaults on our Constitution and our rights are a direct result of the failure by our country to receive justice regarding Richard Nixon.

Barry Werth of “Newsweek” calls Ford “One of history’s bravest leaders.”2 Bob Woodward from the “Washington Post” says that Ford “Disagreed with Bush about invading Iraq” in an interview Woodward had with Ford in July 2004. But Ford told Woodward that his comments “Could be published at any time after his death.”3 What bravery it must have took to speak out about a war you did not agree with a year after the war started and only if your words disagreeing were published after your own death. Brave leader indeed. Maybe he should be given a posthumous medal.

In another article about Ford from Bob Woodward, Woodward states that Ford and Nixon had a close friendship. Regarding the pardon of Nixon, Ford told Woodward, “I looked upon him as my personal friend. And I always treasured our relationship. And I had no hesitancy about granting the pardon, because I felt that we had this relationship and that I didn’t want to see my real friend have the stigma.”4 So which is it Mr. Ford, did you pardon Nixon to save us from “Our long national nightmare” or did you pardon him because you didn’t want your friend to have a “stigma”. Maybe it was both or maybe it was more self serving, “I had to get the monkey off my back,” Ford wrote in his book A Time to Heal. It’s too bad that we are no longer able to ask you. Ford’s approval rating dropped from 71 percent to 49 percent the week after the pardon and 56 percent of Americans wanted Nixon tried in court. Apparently the American people we prepared to handle a continuation of the “national nightmare”.

Should we get the chance to impeach George W. Bush, the House of Representatives had better impeach Mr. Cheney as well lest he go all Jerry Ford on us and pardon his good friend Dubya when he takes office as the 43rd President of the United States.

1 “60 Minutes” Interview with Nancy Pelosi
The Understudy” by Barry Werth in “Newsweek”
Ford Disagreed With Bush About Invading Iraq” by Bob Woodward in the “Washington Post”
4 Ford, Nixon Sustained Friendship for Decades” by Bob Woodward in the “Washington Post”

This post was originally posted under my old Blogger account and has been reposted here backdated to its original posting date (how many versions of “post” can I put into a sentence).