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Hullabaloo


Thursday, December 28, 2006

 

Rolling Over In My Grave

Guest post by Herbert Block

It is not my intent to startle you by returning from the dead (actually, I'm still dead), but after watching the collective memory lapse of the American media, I am compelled to present excerpts from my book, Herblock Special Report, which was first published in 1974.

First, from the Foreword to the book:

After Nixon left office, the idea was still being promoted that those who believed in letting the law take its course were somehow moved by personal motives. But quite the contrary was true.

It was not Nixon who had been assaulted by government, but the government that had been assaulted by Nixon.

It was not those who believed in the American system of justice who operated on a highly personal basis, but staunch Nixon supporters like Gerald Ford.

When President Ford recommended that Congress give former President Nixon large sums of money -- beyond all that was provided by law -- and when he suddenly granted Nixon total and absolute pardon without even waiting for an indictment or a plea of nolo contendre, it was Ford who placed personal feeling for Nixon above his obligations to the people he was sworn to serve.
...
There is often confusion between fairness and favorableness. In 1974, Nixon supporters called for fairness to the President -- -or in Nixonese, "the presidency."

I've believed in fairness to every President -- and to the 210 million American non-Presidents.

That's what all the fighting was about. It was summed up in the legal titles of the cases brought by the Special Prosecutor before the Supreme Court and printed in the usual court case manner:

United States of America, petitioner,

v.

Richard M. Nixon, President of the United States


That's still what the fighting is all about -- whether anyone who has gained office, however high, is above the people and the laws of the United States.

And from the Afterword:

When Nixon left office, there was a general sigh of relief. And in his first talk as President, Gerald Ford said that "our long national nightmare" was over. But one month later, in the Sunday morning statement that shocked the country, he said he could not "prolong the bad dreams that continue to reopen a chapter that is closed." So he issued a "full, free and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon," and decided that Nixon should have control over access to White House tapes and documents. He thus insured that the nation's bad dreams would be prolonged far into the future.

Gerald Ford, in what columnist Mary McGrory called a Pearl Harbor "sneak attack on the due process and common sense," sought to still conscience forever with a sudden stunning blow, just as Richard Nixon tried to do in his "Saturday Night Massacre." Ford's attempt, like Nixon's failed. But he did enormous damage to the nation.

Ford's secret decision proved, if proof were needed, how shaky the basis for the national self-congratulations of only a few weeks before on how well "the system worked."
...
There was even less reason to feel lucky about the responses of many Americans to these disclosures.

It's frightening that many Americans felt that The President should be supported whatever he did. It is even more frightening that in the face of all the evidence, Congress was reluctant to act until finally a prospective impeachment seemed safer than doing nothing. As noble as were the words and deeds of some House Judiciary Committee members, it seemed incredible that other members could for so long find nothing wrong at all. And a majority could not agree on more than three articles of impeachment to offer the Senate.
...
It was a strange kind of "hanging," in which President Ford shortly afterward asked Congress to appropriate $850,000 for Nixon. Of this, $450,000 was allotted for expenses related to an "orderly transition." The allotment for travel expenses was $40,000 and there was $100,000 for "miscellaneous."

It was a "hanging" that seemed more like a payday at the mill.
...
Those who had done nothing to stop the spreading national infection now sought to bind up the nation's wounds -- with the infection still there. They wanted to avoid national division -- by creating a situation in which the nation might be forever torn on whether this President had really committed serious offenses, or whether any President should be subject to penalties. Here was a formula not for ending a nightmare but for continuing one.
...
It is hardly vindictive to ask why men who betrayed positions of the highest trust should not even be required a guilty plea. It would be hardly a good precedent if those who achieved the highest offices were deemed immune to anything but the possible loss of those highest jobs.
...
Those who were so greatly concerned about the resigned President and Vice President acted as if the high positions and emoluments belonged to the Nixons and the Agnews -- as if they were heroes whose laurels had somehow unfortunately, even unfairly, been snatched from them.

Compassion is due all criminals. There are luckless poor and ignorant who spend much of their lives in jail for minor crimes. But Nixon and Agnew showed a remarkable lack of compassion for such people -- while committing their own crimes because of a greed for money and power which could not be satisfied even with the highest offices in the nation.

Yet there was much talk about the "tragedy" that those who had risen so high should have fallen -- as if we were marking the passing of kings.

The tragedy is not that those who rose so high should fall so low. The tragedy is that those who had so low an appreciation for our government should have risen to such high positions in it.
...
As Americans were relaxing and enjoying their good fortune on coming through the crisis, there was the smashing blow of the new President's 8th-of-September statement.

The Gerald Ford -- who, at the hearings on his confirmation to be Vice President, had said that "the public wouldn't stand for" a possible Nixon pardon, and who only days earlier had said clemency would be reserved while the law went forward -- this Gerald Ford now suddenly issued an irrevocable pardon to his predecessor for all offenses -- known and unknown.

It was as if he regarded offenses against the public as none of the public's business. In judging that Nixon had "suffered enough," he punished still further an already suffering nation.

The New York Times said:

President Ford speaks of compassion. It is tragic that he had no compassion and concern for the Constitution and the Government of law that he has sworn to uphold and defend. He could probably have taken no single act of a non-criminal nature that would have more gravely damaged the credibility of his Government in the eyes of the world and of its own people than this unconscionable act of pardon.

The speech was boggling to Americans who thought credibility had at last been restored to the Oval Office.

Ford said: "I deeply believe in equal justice for all Americans whatever their station or former station" -- and then went on to show that he believed in no such thing.

He talked about the danger of passions being aroused and of opinions polarized -- and proceeded to arouse passions and to polarize people. He spoke of ensuring domestic tranquility -- and created domestic turmoil.

And he said that he, as President, was exercising his power "to firmly shut and seal this book."

And so the idea of some divine right of Presidents went on.

Click on the image below to read the caption. I'm going back to sleep now.

-Herblock





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