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Nixon Was Pardoned 38 Years Ago Today – Was It The Right Thing To Do?

Nixon Was Pardoned 38 Years Ago Today – Was It The Right Thing To Do?

Nearly forty years ago in a controversial exercise of executive authority, President Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon for any crimes he committed, encouraged or participated in related to the Watergate scandal. It wasn’t a popular move at the time. Even today, liberals rightly feel the Nixon administration was being given a free pass while conservatives hold fast to their resentment surrounding the impeachment proceedings well into the Clinton and Obama administrations. Eventually most politicians and the press came to see the pardon as the right and necessary thing to do, but is that a supportable conclusion?

Considering the zeal by which the current conservative leadership plays fast and lose with facts and rules and the persistence of the Nixonian Southern Strategy in American politics, that answer very well could be “no.”

The Watergate scandal was, after all, an election scandal, so it is necessary to examine its legacy through the lens of the campaign for power. President Nixon and his aides engaged in illegal wiretapping and other activities targeting the political opposition and then attempted to cover up and destroy any evidence of wrongdoing. Before impeachment proceedings would finish Nixon resigned the presidency.

By issuing the pardon before Nixon faced criminal prosecution, Ford sent a signal to the up-and-coming conservative leaders of the day that criminal accountability would be for show only. Among those who took notice were former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. Now, it’s impossible to trace the scandal of the Iraq War and the Bush administration and the hard right revolution directly to Ford’s pardon, but it does raise the question of what if. What if Richard Nixon had stood trial for his crimes and was ultimately convicted? Would Rumsfeld and Cheney have been so cavalier about cooking up a case for war thirty years later? Even if Nixon had not been convicted, would the possibility of a public trial be enough of a deterrent to keep partisans honest?

It’s not just this legacy of putting aside justice for the “good of the nation” that the pardon endorses. Almost as famous as Watergate, Nixon’s Southern Strategy was a political strategy designed to wedge southern white male working-class resentment against blacks (and women) into political ascendancy. Without this southern strategy there would be no Tea Party. There would be no Ron Paul, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee or, really, any national Republican leader today.

Nor would there be a campaigning ethos defined by a willingness to say anything and do anything to get elected, and we know the effect of that legacy on our current political culture.

In a political climate described as “post-factual” perhaps none of this would have made much of a difference. Perhaps the pardon really was the right thing to do. However it didn’t avoid attempts at future political trials like conservative impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton or most recently Attorney General Eric Holder. Nor did it squash the most cynical elements of the conservative movement that relies on latent racism and misogyny to stay in power. By that measure the pardon of Richard Nixon may have been the least effective, most self-serving use of executive power in the modern political age.

 

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11:46PM PDT on Sep 13, 2012

Richard Nixon did a lot of good. About half of those "Great Society" programs current Republicans whine about came from Nixon, not Johnson. Nixon could also legitimately claim to be the only president besides Jack Kennedy who prevented a nuclear world war.

But none of that balances his attempt to turn much of the US government into his personal political hit men and trade democracy for political manipulation. His sins in that regard are unique to him.

That said, Gerry Ford, the only Republican presidential candidate I ever voted for, was absolutely right: we needed to move on much more than we needed to wreak vengeance. Obama has taken a lot of heat from the left for the same thing. The President's job is too fix problems, not figure out which of his predecessor's minions to blame them on.

9:43PM PDT on Sep 12, 2012

A newly released book by Kurt Eichenwald; "500 Days" provides step by step details of how the CIA fed the Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Condoleeza Rice, critical information that Al Qaeda was inside this country and there was an imminent threat for a catastrophic disaster in America. The administration completely disregarded this information as rubbish and even claimed it was the efforts of Suddam Hussein to thwart efforts by Washington to uncover WMD in Iraq. Of course, Bush gave a audio taped interview while still Governor of Texas in which he stated he wished to be a "war-time president".
Now we have another war monger just itching to also become a "war-time president" and it's up to the American people to make sure Romney doesn't get his wish!

9:02PM PDT on Sep 12, 2012

Watergate set the stage for so much ill that came after. Pardoning Nixon made it OK.

8:56PM PDT on Sep 12, 2012

I always thought G.W. should have gone hunting with Cheney, but his luck seemed to hold out that he was too busy doing other stuff, like visiting his own ranch or whatever. Maybe Laura, the only smart one in that family, has kept him out of the spotlight, who knows? Actually, Barbara had some brains. Too bad she didn't use them to keep her progeny out of politics.

6:47PM PDT on Sep 12, 2012

Diane, of course you are absolutely correct Bush 43 was hardly a neophyte. He had been president for approx. 8 months and Governor of my home state of Texas for far too long before that. I was allowing him much more “slack” than either my heart or head felt and my point was it takes a year, give or take, to become proficient in a new job. Some never become proficient. I am of the opinion Bush 43 falls into that classification. I can’t help but think the best actions President Bush has done for the nation has been his decision to retire quietly and not interject himself into the discourse of today. Dick Cheney should take a cue from his President.

11:23PM PDT on Sep 11, 2012

" In his daily briefing of August 6, 2001 the new president was told by his own security people of “chatter” of a possible attack involving airplanes. The president chose to ignore the warning. We know the results"..........John H., to be perfectly factual, G.W. wasn't exactly the "new president" in that by August 6th, he'd been in office for 8 months. His Daddy had been President before him (not immediately before him, but previous Administration to Clinton's) and he should have been a bit more "on the ball" with keeping up with news flashes and what his advisors told him. Does anyone else remember the "deer in the headlights" look on his face when he was told at the school where he was talking to kids what had just gone down when the SS whispered "something" in his ear?

10:23PM PDT on Sep 11, 2012

Unfortunately, it doesn't matter if it was the right thing to do or not.
Surely, a deal was made for this to happen, for reasons we will never know in our lifetime.

Should be have been pardoned?
In a perfect world, NO.

1:58PM PDT on Sep 11, 2012

@ Denise ---continued. I do wish the site would extend the limit of the posting length.
I’ll direct your memory to the previous change of administrations. The incoming administration was told of possible danger from a terrorist group called al Qaida. The incoming group chose to ignore the warning. In his daily briefing of August 6, 2001 the new president was told by his own security people of “chatter” of a possible attack involving airplanes. The president chose to ignore the warning. We know the results. I’m not apologizing for the failure of the Obama Administration. I’m saying errors are made by each incoming administration; such errors are seemingly designed into the workings of our government. You decide the bigger blunder.

2:24AM PDT on Sep 11, 2012

@Denise, Perhaps I’m entering a fray I may regret. It isn’t my intent to take a stick and stir a mess to create a bigger stink. I’m merely lending my observations. As great as our form of government is it has some built-in problems. To call the US government huge simply fails to convey any real understanding. There is no training program when an administration changes abruptly on January 20. Often the president’s cabinet still has holes in it awaiting Senate approval. I’m not betraying any governmental secret by saying at such times the functioning of our government is at its weakest. There is a truism that says it takes a person a year to learn a new job. The period of time isn’t carved in stone but I’m sure you get my gist. Often in that period of time programs begun by one administration have a tendency to continue into the next because there is a bureaucracy of personnel who try desperately to hold things together. I think this is at least partially what happened with the operation termed Fast & Furious. A man’s life was lost. Should it have happened? Hell no! But it did. The Republicans smell blood and Fast & Furious caused a feeding frenzy. Something of the sort happens each time we change administrations. I’ll direct your memory to the previous change of administrations. The incoming administration was told of possible danger from a terrorist group called al Qaida. The incoming group chose to ignore the warning. In h

2:23AM PDT on Sep 11, 2012

@Denise, Perhaps I’m entering a fray I may regret. It isn’t my intent to take a stick and stir a mess to create a bigger stink. I’m merely lending my observations. As great as our form of government is it has some built-in problems. To call the US government huge simply fails to convey any real understanding. There is no training program when an administration changes abruptly on January 20. Often the president’s cabinet still has holes in it awaiting Senate approval. I’m not betraying any governmental secret by saying at such times the functioning of our government is at its weakest. There is a truism that says it takes a person a year to learn a new job. The period of time isn’t carved in stone but I’m sure you get my gist. Often in that period of time programs begun by one administration have a tendency to continue into the next because there is a bureaucracy of personnel who try desperately to hold things together. I think this is at least partially what happened with the operation termed Fast & Furious. A man’s life was lost. Should it have happened? Hell no! But it did. The Republicans smell blood and Fast & Furious caused a feeding frenzy. Something of the sort happens each time we change administrations. I’ll direct your memory to the previous change of administrations. The incoming administration was told of possible danger from a terrorist group called al Qaida. The incoming group chose to ignore the warning. In h

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