Thursday, December 28, 2006


President Gerald Ford passed away this week and that's very sad for his family and admirers. I don't hold any bad feelings toward the former president, but I find the laudatory overload in the media a bit much. By most accounts, President Ford was an affable and intelligent man who served his country when his country needed him. But I got two rather large problems with this man's legacy:

  1. The pardoning of President Nixon was not the best thing for the country, despite what the great wise men of Washington (Broder, Woodward, et. al.) say. It may have calmed things down inside the Beltway, but it brought no closure for the rest of the country. Over thirty years after Nixon left the White House, we are still debating Nixon's conduct. By contrast, consider the OJ trial: other than the occasional celebrity sighting of OJ in some bar or shopping mall, we don't talk about that mess anymore. Why? Because there was a trial and a verdict. No matter how you felt about the outcome of that trial, our legal process was allowed to operate as intended. This allowed the country to move on. President Ford circumvented this process and set one man above the law. That's as un-american as it gets, IMHO. In this light, I don't think it's a stretch to say that Nixon's pardon encouraged and enabled the conduct of the current occupant of the White House.

  2. In 1975, Indonesia occupied East Timor and killed over 200,000 people in the process. What did President Ford have to do with that? Well, he gave the government of Indonesia permission. You can read the high-level details here. You could argue that Kissinger had more to do with this tragedy than Ford, but Ford was president, not Kissinger. Ford could have persuaded the Indonesian government to go a different way, but he did not. The reasons don't matter much to me; those 200,000 dead people do. That blood stains President Ford's hands; I hope that his God is a forgiving one.

So, how will I remember President Ford? Fair to middlin', I guess. He may have been kind and intelligent and civil, but he made some large mistakes that still reverberate today. I guess you can say that about most presidents.


TeacherRefPoet said...

You said:

"No matter how you felt about the outcome of that trial, our legal process was allowed to operate as intended."

Wasn't our legal system intended to deliver justice? And does anyone, anywhere, think that happened here?

I think you're off the mark in OJ (although not necessarily with Ford). If anything, OJ was a watershed moment in our nation's realization that one can buy a resonable doubt. It's not like this case, or the issues (of race, gender, and social class) that brought it to the forefront have been put to bed. If justice had actually been done, it might be another matter.

Good post, BTW.

tommyspoon said...

Oh, I agree with you that justice was denied in the OJ trial. My only point was that the only way to bring closure to a legal matter is to let it go to trial. Nixon may have been found innocent, we'll never know. The fact that Ford denied the citizens of this country to opportunity to hold Nixon to account for his actions is truly dastardly.

lemming said...

said about most presidents

exactly. There's no such thing as a perfect presidency. These are men (and, God willing, one day women) who are every bit as flawed as the rest of us who walk the planet.

Timor? Reprehensible. Is Ford the only president to have acted so stupidly? Not by a long shot. I struggle far more with the aspects of the present conflict and with MacNamara's informed decisions... but know that after a time all of this does come down to the personal preference.

Ford strikes me as more straightforward than Reagan, Johnson, and Kennedy - even more than FDR, TR and William McKinley, some pretty straight shooting guys. I don't agree with most of his politics, but I admire the man.

Joe said...

(Inigo Montoya) You use that OJ analogy very much. I do not think it means what you think it means.


I remember the OJ trial differently than you do. What I remember was an unending frenzy which monopolized the front page of every paper and the top of every newscast - and shifted actual important news to the back.

The whole thing was a damn voyeuristic circus. It disgraced every person it touched. And it kept us from thinking about anything else for a year. Time we should've spent learning about the world and our communities was wasted watching celebrities.

I'll grant you that the trial created an end point, when OJ was acquitted. After that, there wasn't much to talk about. However, if they'd gotten him, we would've seen appeal after appeal, and the circus would be unbroken. It's only time which made us stop talking about OJ, and I think the same is true of Nixon. Ford, at least, stopped the clock.

(For the record, I think Nixon was wrong to resign, when he should've faced the impeachment charges. But by then, it was a little late to expect him to act honorably.)

I'll see your analogy and raise you one: Clinton's wasted second term, unable to govern because of a trial.

tommyspoon said...

I remember the OJ trial differently than you do... an unending frenzy which monopolized the front page of every paper and the top of every newscast - and shifted actual important news to the back.

Granted. But Nixon's crimes were far more important than OJ's, IMHO. I think that the country focused on Nixon's crimes for a year would have been a good thing.

True, the OJ trial was a circus. So was Fatty Arbuckle's trial. And the Lindbergh Baby trial. And the Leopold & Leob (sp?) trial. There will always be a "trial of the century". There will always be another circus. But wouldn't it be better to have one that actually meant something to every citizen instead of a glorified murder case?