Last Friday marked the forty-three year anniversary of President Gerald Ford’s pardon of his predecessor Richard Nixon. Mr. Nixon told his wife that day: “This is the most humiliating day of my life.”
Mr. Ford was attacked in the press for days. His approval rating went down 40 points. There were accusations of a “deal” by which Ford got the presidency and Nixon got pardoned. Ford was called before a congressional committee. There was the prospect of impeachment.
Bill Clinton, then 28, was running for Congress in Arkansas. He quipped: “If President Ford wants to pardon anybody, he ought to pardon the administration’s economic advisers.” Two years later the pardon probably cost Mr. Ford the election to Jimmy Carter.
Decades rolled by.
By 2000 President Clinton had changed his mind on the Nixon pardon. He then believed that Ford did the right but unpopular thing. In 2001 the John F. Kennedy Library awarded President Ford, then 87, the “Profiles in Courage Award” for the pardon. Edward Kennedy said: ”I was one of those who spoke out against his action then. But time has a way of clarifying past events, and now we see that President Ford was right. His courage and dedication to our country made it possible for us to begin the process of healing and put the tragedy of Watergate behind us.”
Sometimes the significance of an event is only seen years later.