Last night, shortly after getting the news that former President Ford had died, I mentioned that I had agreed with his decision to pardon Richard Nixon at the time, and that this now seems to be the consensus view. In the coming days, we’ll probably find out whether the consensus really does tilt Ford’s way.
Debate within the blogosphere has already begun, of course, and Jack and Charmaine Yoest, who normally see eye-to-eye, report that they do not agree. Charmaine thinks the decision helped get the country moving forward; Jack says Ford should have been held accountable and demonstrated that no man is above the law.
I don’t think this subject lends itself to fruitful debate, since it’s largely a matter of taste. My taste runs against trying and imprisoning deposed leaders for essentially political offenses. That happened a lot in the 1970s, but happily not here. Having lived through those times, I also have a pretty clear sense that an ultra-high profile Watergate criminal prosecution was not what the country needed in 1975. The lesson that no man is above of the law was forcefully delivered when the political animal Nixon received the political death sentence.
One cannot say with real assurance what our politics would have looked like had Nixon stood trial. But we can say that something like “normal service” was restored after Nixon was pardoned. The Carter years were civil enough (at least compared to today), especially considering how awful his presidency was. The first four plus Reagan years weren’t terribly uncivil considering how fundamentally he was trying to change things. Even if the pardon only bought us a decade’s respite from destructive politics, I would say it was worth it.
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