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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

(CHICAGO)(January 2, 2007) Thirty-two years ago I was based in Washington, living in Chicago and had just opened an office in the World Trade Center in New York. Traveling took me around the country and around the world. I saw the disintegration of the Nixon Administration up close.
I first went to Washington in 1966. The "Ev & Jerry Show" as it was called, was on the air. Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen and House Minority Leader Gerald Ford went on TV each week to try and hold back the tide of President Johnson's 89th Congress. Mostly they lost, but they kept trying.
Dirksen and Ford were derided as "Midwestern conservatives," a phrase we have heard once again in the past few days. It is a term that deserves more respect today than it receives. The bitter partisanship between Democrats and Republicans, and the bitter divisions within the Republican Party, could use a large dose of Midwestern conservatism. The nation could as well.
As a congressional leader, Ford was seen as amiable and harmless. He manifested poor judgment when he tried to impeach Supreme Court Justice William Douglas. When he was nominated for Vice President the joke was that Nixon had chosen him because congress would then be afraid to impeach Nixon and put Ford in the White House. Nixon was wrong. Still, no one expected very much of Ford.
And then he was president.
And then he pardoned Nixon.
Overnight Ford became an object of derision and hostility. How could be pardon Nixon?
Ford died last week, and now we can look back with 32 years of hindsight. I was wrong. Ford was right. Ford defused the national angst with his controversial pardon.
Of course there are people that are still angry with Ford for pardoning Nixon. Americans gradually forgave him. Our anger rapidly dissipated after the pardon. By 1976 Ford was able to survive a primary challenge, and then rally to almost beat the Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter. We had forgiven and almost elected him.
Then Ford left the scene. Unlike Bush I and Clinton, who can be seen on TV hawking their programs and policies, Ford was mostly silent. He kept to himself. Unlike Carter (with whom I strongly agree on the Middle East), who has also remained active in the public arena, Ford mostly kept his own counsel.
And so when President Ford died this past week Americans honored him as they had never honored him before. Collectively, the American people said, "I'm sorry," and acknowledged the wisdom of his decision to pardon Nixon.
It is a characteristic of this great nation that we often and eventually admit our mistakes, sometimes decades later. Belatedly, we correct the historical record to reflect the reality of what happened.
Ford's wisdom has been vindicated by history. And those of us who were young 32 years ago, and are not-so-young any more, have made amends with the accidental president and with ourselves. Ford's generosity of spirit and practicality of policy returned American to "normal" much sooner than we would have resumed normality if the hunger for revenge against President Nixon had been allowed to fester endlessly.
Congress also performed its constitutional duty. The "Imperial Presidency" was chained. For almost three decades the sound policies that had evolved in the interaction between Ford and the Congress survived. Then we invaded Iraq.
I wish I could say that with the hindsight of forty years in Washington I expect President Bush to be vindicated thirty years henceforth. Sadly, I don't. Although Ford's "right-hand men" Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld returned to the White House with George Bush I and II, the wisdom and humility of the Ford years did not travel with them. Today we face a world made worse by America, not better. We face expansive claims and policies that have made us a laughingstock and created chaos.
Thirty-two years ago, our democracy worked. It continues to work, as the recent election results confirm. The American people are not happy. They removed Nixon when he breached their trust. They have partially removed the Republicans in 2006. And they are waiting.
As for Jerry Ford. My apologies Mr. President. You were right and I was wrong in 1974. You taught me a lesson in wisdom, restraint and humility that I have not forgotten. I only wish others had similarly remembered the lessons of the Ford Years. It will take a long time to get us back to the state of the world and state of the nation you left us in 1977.
Andy Martin is the Executive Editor and publisher of © Copyright by Andy Martin 2006. Comments? E-mail: Media contact: (866) 706-2639. Andy is America’s most respected independent foreign policy, military and intelligence analyst. He is a Middle East expert who is Executive Director of the Revolutionary War Research Center. He has spent 36 years in and out of the Middle East and spent much of 2003 in Iraq. He ran as a "Midwestern conservative" for Governor of Illinois in 2006.


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