In the grand slush of news lately, I’d overlooked today’s 40-year anniversary — Gerald Ford’s forgive-and-forget of Dick Nixon.
And nearly 40 years later, President Obama did just about the same thing with George Jr. and his bunch.
Ford’s TV text soul-searching included:
My conscience tells me clearly and certainly that I cannot prolong the bad dreams that continue to reopen a chapter that is closed.
My conscience tells me that only I, as President, have the constitutional power to firmly shut and seal this book.
Finally, I feel that Richard Nixon and his loved ones have suffered enough and will continue to suffer, no matter what I do, no matter what we, as a great and good nation, can do together to make his goal of peace come true.
(Illustration found here).
A crock of shit then, a crock of shit now.
I was then a 90-day college graduate, doing the honors that previous June at the University of Florida — and I’d awoken with a bad hangover that Sunday morning, sprawled on the couch in a friend’s trailer, which was located on a lake just a few miles east of Gainesville, home of UF. And that trailer had a refrigerator hook-up to handle a small keg.
So the hangover was way-normal.
Ford’s small, puckered, black-and-white mug sure wasn’t. My friend and I screamed at that little Sears portable TV all morning. And most-way-likely, we hit the keg again. I can’t remember…
What an asshole! Pardoning that little shit!
Initially, a sentiment in which nearly everybody agreed.
Last year, Carl Bernstein reminisced on the event:
“I called Woodward and said, ‘Have you heard the news?’ And Woodward said, ‘No, what are you talking about?’ And Woodward can always understand my shorthand. ‘The son-of-a-bitch pardoned the son-of-a-bitch.’
“And Woodward said, ‘Oh my god.’ I mean, he got it.”
Bernstein then added what was to become sort of a mantra of the Ford pardon; “And for a couple years we thought, like many people, that the pardon of Nixon was an irresponsible act. And then it became clear…and Gerald Ford lost the presidency probably when he ran for reelection because of that act.”
I thought the whole thing fucked-sucked four decades ago, and now the shit’s even worse. And all bought the farm: Last July, Bernstein said the pardon took “great courage,” while Woodward at the same time tilted the words a bit, calling Ford’s action “an act of courage.”
Not really good, however, for the country, the Constitution and the people.
Noted historian and journalist, Rick Perlstein, has a real-good piece today at Salon on the Ford pardon, and the reality of cause/effect.
But, in the spirit of the Nixon pardon, the idea of holding elite institutions to reckoning had fallen out of favor.
At the height of the intelligence investigations Washington Post’s publisher Katharine Graham complained of the media’s tendency to “see a conspiracy and cover-up in everything.”
Sen. J. William Fulbright said “these are not the kind of truths we need most right now,” that the nation demanded “restored stability and confidence” instead.
The CIA had no trouble promptly drumming up a disingenuous propaganda campaign that all but neutered reform.
And, 39 years later, these institutions are still largely broken, and still almost entirely unaccountable.
And therein lies the rub — in April 2009 (via CBS):
Obama last week authorized the release of a series of memos detailing the methods approved under President George W. Bush.
In an accompanying statement, he said “it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice, that they will not be subject to prosecution.”
He did not specifically address the policymakers.
Asked Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” about the fate of those officials, Emanuel said the president believes they “should not be prosecuted either and that’s not the place that we go.”
Gerald’s legacy, and unfortunately, ours, too.