Monday, January 08, 2007

Same Stuff, Different Year

By: UnrepentantNewDealer

So, Happy New Year and New Blog Formatting. Well, it's once again been a while since I last posted. What can I say, I've been busy. But it doesn't mean I haven't thought of things to blog about. Starting with my own New Year's resolutions, of sorts.

I've never been a big fan of New Year's resolutions. Honestly, the question to ask yourself is not whether you kept last year's New Year's resolutions, but whether you even still remember them. Far better to not even bother. My standby for years has been, "My New Year's resolution is to not make any more New Year's resolutions."

That being said, I do have certain... goals, for the new year. First off, lose a little weight. I've been eating healthier and even started going to the gym towards the end of last semester (which, as those who know me can attest, is little short of a miracle).

I also have come to realize recently how long it has been since I last sat down to write--not a blog post or a school paper, but writing creatively for fun, writing short stories, plays, poems, sonnets, even long stream-of-consciousness ramblings. In middle and high school, I spent a fair amount of time doing just this kind of writing, and I have always enjoyed doing it. I even fancy I'm not half-bad at it either. Somehow since I went off to college, I have virtually stopped writing for fun. I tell myself I don't have time right now, I have so many other things to do, and I'll do it later, but later somehow never comes. And I have plenty of ideas of things I want to write, whole scenes, and stories, and sagas, and plot lines all laid out. So, it really comes down to just taking the time to transfer them down onto paper (I'm somewhat old-fashioned that way, particularly with poems).

This past fall, I went to a poetry reading in Greensboro and after listening to five minutes worth of wooden and uncreative "poetry," declared (very softly to myself) "I can write poems better than they can." I spent the rest of the evening silently critiquing their poetry and devising better poems on the same subjects. Those efforts at one-up-manship (believe me, it wasn't hard) as well as some other poems and a short play that's been incubating in my brain for over a year will all appear on this blog this year. That's my New Year's promise to you, oh legions of loyal readers (and I'm talking to both of you!)


Well, I've not been posting much, but there's been no let up in the news: the usual, people dying or making fools of themselves. The big story has been death of Gerald Ford, which has sent the MSM into a veritable orgy of eulogizing and rhapsodizing about the Great Gerald Ford. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think he was a bad man or a bad president (nor an especially good one, either), but I fail to see what he did that he deserves such accolades and lionization.

The standard narrative, which is taught to us all in school and has been forced down our throats ad nauseum for years is that Ford, Nixon's VP and successor after he resigned, courageously chose to pardon Nixon, a decision which cost Ford election in his own right in 1976 but which is now universally seen to have been the right decision. Honestly, Ford wasn't in office all that long, so eulogizers of Ford have little else to eulogize, so they play this "noble pardon" bit to the hilt. From all the worshipful praise heaped upon this man by the MSM, you'd almost think Ford was one of our greatest presidents. The always-overrated Peggy Noonan outdid herself this time: "When he pardoned Richard Nixon, he threw himself on a grenade to protect the country from shame, from going too far. It was an act of deep political courage."

Yet what was so noble or courageous about the pardon? How would trying the former president in a court of law have been a "shameful" act? How would treating the president as being subject to the law, rather than above it, have been "going too far?" Didn't Nixon himself bring shame upon the country, didn't he go too far, when he decided that, in his own words, "When the president does it, that means it is not illegal,"?

What kind of twisted logic is this? Christopher Hitchins for once has it right: "By the standards of 'healing' celebrated this week, one could argue that O.J. Simpson should have been spared indictment lest the vexing questions of race be unleashed to trouble us again... Fine, if you don't mind living in a banana republic."

Implicit in the praise of Ford is the assumption that it would have been a horrible thing for a president who broke the law to be prosecuted for it. Yet, would it? Supposedly, Americans were in such a fragile state after Nixon resigned that it would have been unnessarily socially divisive to have allowed Nixon to stand trial and Americans just wanted to put it all behind them and "move on." Yet, in fact, Americans tuned in in droves to watch the televised Watergate hearings and were overwhelmingly furious when Ford pardoned Nixon, judging by Ford's approval rating falling from 71% to 49% in the week after the pardon. Contrast this with the 2/3 of Americans who told pollsters they thought the Clinton impeachment hearings were a farce and wanted to "move on"-- at a time when the Republican party and the MSM didn't seem so concerned with the delicate emotional state--or even the clear wishes--of the American people. Besides, it certainly isn't the government's job to look out for our fragile national psyche by shielding criminals from punishment.

But who didn't want to see justice done? Who had a vested interest in burying this whole mess? Why, the Republican party, of course. The sooner Nixon faded from the scene, the sooner voters would stop linking the party with its long-time leader and stop punishing Republican politicians at the polls. So, Ford had a vested interest in pardoning Nixon. He may have fallen on a grenade, but he took one for his team, not the American people.

Most obviously, of course, Nixon himself benefitted from the pardon. What is curious is how few people have wondered whether the pardon was part of a quid pro quo. Only a few days before Nixon stepped down, his chief of staff, Alexander Haig, stopped by Ford's office and told him Nixon was contemplating resigning and that his successor could pardon him. As if he wasn't sure he'd gotten the point across, Haig gave Ford two pieces of paper, one that detailed the President's power to pardon, the other a blank pardon form. Hint, hint. Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink. Say no more.

Nixon was a brilliant man. He knew he would face legal trouble down the road, so a presidential pardon would be a wise prerequisite for him stepping down in the first place. And surprise, surprise, a month after he stepped down, he got just the pardon he'd asked for from Ford. And all just a coincidence! Honestly, how stupid do they think we are?

Worse, Ford was hardly disinterested in the matter. Since Ford's death, it has come out, in a piece that Bob Woodward of Watergate fame, had been waiting to publish until after Ford's death, that Ford was close friends with Nixon since the late 1940s, long before Watergate. He called himself Nixon's "only real friend," and promised Nixon in 1973 after the Watergate scandal broke, "Anytime you want me to do anything, under any circumstances, you give me a call, Mr. President."

Most damning of all is this gem from his just-released 2005 interview with 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."

Got that? He pardoned Nixon because Nixon was his friend and he didn't want to see his friend suffer the consequences of his own actions. A stirring tribute to the enduring power of friendship over the rule of law.

There are other nagging problems with the standard narrative. First, Ford never consulted his own attorney general about the pardon. Second, the pardon was a blanket pardon covering every action Nixon had undertaken as president, a preemptive pardon issued before any charges had ever been filed against Nixon.

Third, Ford didn't just stop with pardoning Nixon. Three days after Nixon resigned, he called Ford demanding that he hand over all of his official documents and the Oval Office tapes he'd made- about 1,000 reels of tapes and 46 million pieces of paper--all potentially incriminating evidence. The same day he pardoned Nixon, Ford announced that he was going to give those documents and tapes to Nixon, "with the explicit understanding that Nixon was eventually going to destroy many of the unreleased tapes." An outraged Congress quickly passed a law placing all the evidence under government protection, evidence which proved invaluable to historians seeking to figure out just how much Nixon knew about Watergate. If Ford had given those tapes and papers to Nixon, we'd almost certainly never have found out the full truth.

The most damaging aspect of this whole sordid mess is that Nixon was allowed to escape justice, setting a dangerous precedent. George H.W. Bush, on his way out the door in 1992, pardoned a number of his associates who had been involved in the Iran-Contra scandal and were in danger of serious jail time. Bill Clinton did the same. Scooter Libby's defense strategy seems to be to try to drag things out long enough to get a pardon from George W. Bush before he leaves office in two years. And should any former president, now or in the future, be thought in danger of legal action, it would be political suicide for the sitting president not to pardon them. "Why can't you be more like Ford, why can't you be a healer like he was, you're just dragging out our 'long national nightmare.'"

The legacy of the pardon is merely to reaffirm Nixon's chilling philosophy: "When the president does it, that means it is not illegal." This kind of presidential immunity cannot help but lead to the futher corruption of our politics and the decay of our democratic institutions, as the principle of no man being above the law is tossed overboard--in the name of "healing" our polarized nation and "moving forward."

A final note: The MSM has found another reason to praise Ford since his death: he apparently also told Woodward in June 2004 that he would never have invaded Iraq and that it was a big mistake. So, Ford gets credit for having warned (more than a year after the invasion, mind you) that we should never have gone into Iraq. Ok, fine. Just one little problem: Ford told Woodward he could not publish or otherwise tell a soul about his true thoughts on the Iraq war until after Ford was dead. Had Ford spoken out publicly in June 2004, it could have made a real difference in the debate and perhaps the election, as well.

It's worth remembering that at the time, there was pretty much no Republican on record as saying going to war was a mistake. Had Ford publicly expressed his opinion on the war, it would have broadened the discussion and made the position of war critic a bipartisan one, indeed, given Ford's stature, a position above politics. We will never know if his speaking out then would have changed anything or led to a change in course in Iraq. But by privately speaking out against the war, while remaining mum on the subject in public, Ford got to have it both ways: to posthumously get credit for opposing the war without having to withstand the barrage of criticism such a position would have earned him from his own party while he was still alive and his criticism could have done any good. There are many things one can call such shallow-minded opportunism, but courage is not one of them.


Michael Akerman said...

Smith, I need to retrain you to use labels. ;)

I think the pardon of Nixon was courageous in that there was a very real chance that a bullet would somehow find its lonely way into one of Ford's rather vital areas, but otherwise I agree with you.

I don't know that the pardon does set a dangerous precedent, though. They were rather extenuating circumstances: Ford was supposedly friends with Nixon, who was probably the most influential person the Republican party has yet seen. Such pressing circumstances are unlikely to come up again. That's not to say it was the right thing to do.

And yeah, you do need to put more creative stuff up. You were very good when you wrote: second only to me.