The Nixon pardon revisited

Jay Cost of National Review Online writes in praise of the 39th American president.

This weekend mark[ed] the 45th anniversary of arguably the most amazing moment in the history of the presidency. President Gerald Ford issued former president Richard Nixon a full, unconditional pardon for any crimes he may have committed related to the Watergate burglary and coverup. …

… The challenge facing Ford when he took office on August 9, 1974, was immense. The country was reeling from the Watergate scandal. The economy was in shambles. South Vietnam would soon be in total collapse. It seemed as though all of America’s post-war chickens were coming home to roost — as an overeager federal government failed to manage both the domestic and foreign side of public policy, while enveloping itself in a humiliating scandal. …

… From Ford’s perspective, the smart political play would have been to keep Nixon dangling — to highlight the contrast between the squeaky-clean Ford and the crooked ex-president. But Ford put the country first. He knew that the prospect of criminal proceedings against Nixon would damage the country immensely, and he chose to put an end to the whole affair. …

… It would be going a bit far to say that pardoning Nixon sank Ford’s chances in 1976. The economy was still in rough shape; historically speaking, it is very hard for a party to win a third consecutive presidential term; and the GOP was divided, as a rising Ronald Reagan had nearly snatched the nomination from Ford on the back of strong support in the South and West. But pardoning Nixon certainly did not help Ford. And given the vanishingly narrow margin between Jimmy Carter and Ford — Carter won 50 percent to Ford’s 48 percent — the pardon may have made the difference.

That’s what makes the act so extraordinary. Ford knew he’d pay a political price for it, but he did it anyway, because he knew that the country needed to move on.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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