Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) was a professor of literature at Sarah Lawrence College for over thirty years. Campbell is probably best known as George Lucas’ source for the mythology permeating the Star Wars anthology. Good versus evil, light versus darkness, hope versus despair and, throughout human existence, alertness to being alive versus remaining unaware of our experiences. To Campbell, the unpardonable sin is to be unaware, that is, to not be truly alive as we meander through our lives unaffected by what is happening around us. For me, Black History Month evokes an introspection of my callow youth and its blissful ignorance of the difference between my white world and that of my, as we called them then, Colored friends.
I scarcely knew Blacks and whites lived separate lives during the 1940’s, 50’s and the first half of the 60’s. I was happy and assumed others were too. Things were as they ought to be or at least they were okay with me as they were. It did not seem strange when before 1956 my father would take us across Bird Creek to Colored Town and Booker T. Washington School to watch Colored boys play basketball. Then after 1956 it felt fine to see Blacks and whites mix on the court, but not in the churches and not at our homes or businesses.
Before the Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile brought expanded options for estrogenous pilgrims to my hometown of Pawhuska, Oklahoma the cultural center for testosterone types were my small town’s three pool halls. Now, we of the male persuasion can drink good coffee as we wait for breakfast, dinner or supper as our wives accumulate treasures. But in days of segregation gone by the white businessmen of Pawhuska frequented the Smoke House on Kihekah Avenue where they played Dominoes, those white men interested in beer with their games usually went to Curry’s on Main Street and we younger males congregated at Palace Billiards that was also on Kihekah. Henry Roberts owned and operated the Palace that we boys always called Henry’s. It had a tile floor, four wooden game tables with slate tops and scattered wooden armchairs where the cowhands would drink Dr. Pepper while chewing tobacco and spitting into the brass cuspidors on the floor or back into their bottles. Henry’s double front doors had plate-glass windows that allowed for the only sunlight to shine into the business. The front of the pool hall faced Kihekah and there was a single solid back door that opened out to the rear access and the latrine. Colored boys were allowed to enter through the rear door to play pool on either of the two pool tables that were right next to the back door. Coloreds did not come up front to the two snooker tables nor to the game tables. The entire pool hall was contained in one narrow, open, window-less rectangular room about fifteen feet wide and fifty feet long.
The favorite table game was 4 Point Pitch played with dominoes, we called them rocks, that had cards on their faces, not domino dots. The players would shuffle the rocks by sliding them around on the table then, depending upon the number of players, up to a maximum of eight, deal out 6 rocks per player. Points were won for the highest card of trump played, the lowest card of the trump suit played, one for the jack-of-trump and one for “game”. The point for “game” was calculated by adding four for any ace, three for any king, two for any queen, one for any jack and ten for any ten. The maximum number of points that anyone could accumulate in any one round of play was four. That was also the maximum allowable bid and the bidder got to name the trump suit. The first person to score a total of eleven won the pot. If more than one person happened to go over eleven at the end of a hand, whoever had won the bid for that hand won the pot, that is, as long as that player made his bid. If you bid and went set you got a “hicky” and it cost you the same as a game, usually one dollar. So, you might win one dollar from up to seven other players and, if any had failed to make a bid, an additional dollar. Frequently games had fewer than eight players, often as few as two and it was quite cutthroat as everyone played to set the bidder.
Colored boys never played Pitch or snooker. The racks for the snooker and pool cues were also separate. Whites could have played pool but none of us did. I do not ever remember wondering about that or why Coloreds came in the back door. Nor do I remember myself or anyone else ever speaking to any of the Blacks who eased quietly in from the back, and placed their coins to pay for pool on the table to be picked up by Henry. Now as I look back, I think we all were committing Campbell’s unpardonable sin and handling our experiences as suggested by psychologist and poet Bonaro Wilkinson Overstreet (1902-1985) when she cited the following poem in her Introduction to Philosophy:
“Young spruces stood bolt upright, every twig.
Stiff with refusal to be bent by snow.
Young hemlocks sloped their boughs beneath the load.
Letting it softly go.
Each solved no doubt, to its own satisfaction.
The problem posed by uninvited weight.
I’d not take sides with either.
I have tried both ways of handling fate.”
Unfortunately, it was not until much later that I tried the “bolt upright” approach to segregation and I do not know if my more “alert” response has been of any more efficacy. Next week we might delve into these issues with folks who probably were more aware than I was because they were living life from another perspective.
Joe McCarthy (1908-1957) was a U.S. senator from Wisconsin. He was also a Wisconsin circuit court judge just before being elected to Congress. He brought no honor to either branch of government. McCarthy’s favorite tactic of smearing people was to accuse them of being Communist sympathizers by naming the victims, say a political opponent or a college professor or movie actor, then while holding up a piece of paper say, “I have here in my hand proof of treasonous activity”. McCarthy’s “exposés” were often later exposed to have been unfounded allegations. McCarthy was not but could have been the role model for “Big Brother” of George Orwell’s English novel Nineteen Eighty-Four in which the exercise of one’s supposed Freedom of Speech could result in imprisonment or even death.
In the United States the bedrock on which our Free Speech is founded is the First Amendment to the United States Constitution:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble; and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Our Constitution was designed to protect citizens from abuse of power by government. The Founders did not fear individual insurrection so much as organized collective tyranny. History teaches that a republican form of democratic government does not rot from the bottom but the top. “Thought Police” as warned against by such patriots as James Madison and Thomas Jefferson are far more dangerous to democracy than individuals or even small groups coalescing around minority ideologies in upper rooms. Ideas are not the enemy of the people; government suppression of free speech is.
We should exert strong government effort to prevent harm by those who engage in destructive ACTIONS while espousing odious beliefs. And our current legal system is fully capable of exposing and punishing such behaviors while preventing future crimes. But to punish thoughts even if expressed through the most vociferous speech is harmful to all of us. The cautionary wisdom of our Founders’ strong protection of free speech came to mind when I read the Stand-Down Order of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued February 05, 2021. Austin’s new order refers to the previously published Department of Defense Instruction 1325.06 that was originally issued November 27, 2009 and concerned hate speech.
Secretary of Defense Austin almost certainly had good intentions when he, “Directed commanding officers and supervisors at all levels to … conduct a one-day Stand-Down” to address concerns about individuals and groups in the military who might engage in illegal discrimination based on prohibited factors of race, gender, national origin or ethnicity. Austin stated, “We (Austin does not define who “We” is or are) will not tolerate actions that go against the fundamental principles of the oath we share, including actions associated with extremist or dissident ideologies”. Of course, good intentions are famous as paving material. Carefully and thoroughly thought-out procedures are of more value than good intentions. When Secretary Austin states this February 05, 2021 order, “[I]s just the first initiative … to eliminate the corrosive effects that extremist ideology and conduct have on Department of Defense military and civilian personnel”, safeguards should be put in place to prevent the slippery slope warned of by Benjamin Franklin:
“Those who would give up essential liberty for temporary safety deserve neither.”
Austin does concentrate on “actions” and “behaviors” but when he demands that those in charge of our national defense, “[A]t all levels discuss procedures for reporting suspected (emphasis added) … extremist behaviors”, the “Thought Police” may be encouraged to turn in their fellow soldiers on mere suspicion. It reminds me of a Phil Ochs (1940-1976) folk song about the vicissitudes of political opinions:
“Sure, once I was young and impulsive; I wore every conceivable pin,
Even went to Socialists meetings, learned all the old Union hymns.
Ah, but I’ve grown older and wiser, and that’s why I’m turning you in.”
Love Me, I’m A Liberal
It may be that my personal experience as a teenage member of the United States Air Force affects my reaction to the Standing-Order that sounds like a suggestion for constant, generalized surveillance of everyone by everyone. After all, I remember some crazy things said by young people who had access to cheap beer to drink and nothing to do. How much of those “behaviors” will be anonymously and thoughtlessly slipped into personnel files and maybe one day appear on Twitter to the complete surprise of the named individual?
For it is not true that young service members’ weekend conversations are 100% about sex or sports. Every now and then, such as when the rightness of an on-going war, Vietnam or Iraq for instance, is the topic for discussion, some vociferously patriotic if slightly inebriated soldier might recall his or her high school American History course and shout out about the Founding revolutionary insurrectionists, say Patrick Henry (1736-1799), whose firebrand speech in 1775 led directly to the “Shot heard ’round the world” about one month later:
“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? …. I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
Henry’s speech on March 23, 1775 at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia had a distinguished audience that included George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. If the British “Thought Police” had been alerted the whole congregation might have been put on report.
If the Stand-Down Order of February 05, 2021 is very carefully implemented it might not be misunderstood and abused. However, whatever is the current prevailing political ideology often assumes an out-of-control life of its own. Just ask the victims of Joe McCarthy and his Red Scare and the Black List of the 1950’s.
Last Thursday morning at 8:00 a.m. Peg and I joined supplicants from numerous Oklahoma communities at the Grant County Health Department in Medford, Oklahoma, population one thousand. Medford is 105 miles from our home in Barnsdall, Oklahoma but there were pilgrims there from even further away. The convocation had the feel of a Hadj with the tiny health department being the Ka’bah and Medford being Mecca. Instead of seeking a later reward we were all beseeching the higher authority, our government, for salvation here and now from COVID-19.
The congregation consisted of a continuous stream of persons all of whom had the same color hair, were of similar size and shape and shuffled along as if in fear of falling. Because Medford’s Health Department is staffed with small-town Oklahomans who were born in the 20th century they were unfailingly friendly and efficient. Peg and I arrived early, of course, as did many others and were welcomed in out of the forty mile per hour cold wind gusts into the 10’ x 20’ reception area. We were there about 45 minutes, most of that time being required to see if either of us had a bad reaction to the shots; we did not. However, since these supplicants were mainly friendly refugees from an Oklahoma of the 1940’s and 50’s, in that time we learned more about them and they about us than any government census worker ever would.
Our experience with the fine folks of Medford, most of whom were unpaid volunteers, was difficult to reconcile with America’s over all response to COVID-19. Whereas our federal government should receive praise for developing vaccines in record time, we have fallen way, way short in delivering the vaccine. Every day the battle we are in with the constantly mutating virus becomes more dangerous and ’Ole 19 has already killed over 450,000 of us.
Toni Morrison (1931-2019) has her main character, Milkman, in her novel Song of Soloman thinking, “Perhaps all human relationships boil down to: Would you save my life? or would you take it?” Morrison clearly understood Franz Kafka’s (1883-1924) anguished frustration with the legal system in his novel The Trial. Kafka’s main character, Joseph K, cannot even get the legal system to explain what he is charged with or why. William Shakespeare’s (1564-1616) Macbethsums it up: “Life is a tale told by an idiot”. Apparently Morrison, Kafka and Shakespeare were trying to get their governments to provide something as essential as a COVID-19 vaccination or whatever basic public service they needed then.
Whereas most of us are amazed that our government ramped up vaccines in about one year, the euphoria over discovery appears to have interfered with actually inoculating us. It is as if we have been so proud of finding a potential prevention of the plague that we have failed to develop a plan to employ the prevention. At the rate we are inoculating ourselves ’Ole 19 will mutate us out of existence. Supposedly millions of doses of vaccines will soon be shipped to CVS, Walgreens and Walmart. That is great but if our government has to use the existing Internet portal system, the virus will outpace us. We must be able to sign up “at the door” of the pharmacies or have the vaccine delivered and applied at our doors. We have already appropriated trillions of dollars to respond to COVID-19. We have spent enough taxpayer vaccination money to send a trained UPS, FedEx, Amazon worker or National Guard soldier to every one of our 330 million citizens with a needle and a vile of vaccine and the knowledge, training and emergency supplies to check for and respond to any bad reactions. Although in the millions of shots already given there have been virtually no deaths reported. We are allowing an extremely unlikely deadly reaction to the vaccination to interfere with the delivery of the vaccine and the almost guaranteed possibility the virus will continue to kill us in huge numbers if we do not quickly vaccinate a large percentage of our population. Another possibility would be to have the vaccines delivered directly to us and then allow us to contact medical providers of our choice to inject them. After all, millions of us receive billions of doses of medication by mail already.
We inoculated the whole country for polio without so much as a ripple. We all have had shots for smallpox, measles, TB, etc., etc. without this bottleneck. As Jonathan Reiner, Professor of Medicine at George Washington University, said back in January 2021, “The bottleneck is actually the logistics of vaccinating people (not the supply of the vaccine)”. And former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb stated in The Wall Street Journal, “New variants of the virus that appear more contagious increase the urgency to deploy the vaccine as fast as possible”.
The craziness of signing up on Internet portals, waiting in lines of vehicles or waiting in lines outside in the weather adds another level to Dante Alighieri’s (1265-1321) Inferno. Americans can order everything from food to computers over the Internet and get them sent overnight right to our doors with simple instructions on how to use them. A packaged, pre-loaded syringe packed in dry ice is not a space shot problem. A looped YouTube video and public TV demonstration would get to 99% of our cell phones and homes for those who wish to DIY.
If our government does not think we, their bosses, are competent to give ourselves or our families shots then why not use each state’s National Guard or our 2 ½ million regular military personnel. When I joined the United States Air Force fifty-eight years ago, they gave us enough inoculations in one day to save the world from all known diseases and some not even thought of. Surely we can adapt from that system.
By the way, in a week or two after we get the promised email notices from the Oklahoma Board of Health, Peg will have to get back on the online portal to schedule appointments for our second shots at a location somewhere around the state. Hopefully it won’t take a month of checking daily/hourly to schedule the second dose as it did with the first. And, of course, we each have to get a separate appointment within the three to four week allotted period before the next dose is due. All this must take place while the virus continues to out fox us.
Five-foot, four inch tall “Little Jimmy”, James Madison, Jr. (1751-1836), applied his gigantic intellect to melding the Natural Law theory of John Locke (1632-1704) and the Separation of Powers theory of Charles Montesquieu (1689-1755) into the Constitution of the United States. Locke and Montesquieu postulated that all things being equal no person should harm another in his/her life, liberty, health or possessions. They, along with Madison, also believed that every person who has power is apt to abuse it. Therefore, governments are necessary to keep individual power in check but the power of government must also be kept in check.
According to Edgar Bodenheimer (1908-1991) in his treatise on jurisprudence:
“The basic idea of the American Declaration of Independence as well as the Bill of Rights is the recognition of the natural and inalienable rights of life, liberty, and property, as conceived by Locke, while the main body of the United States Constitution is a practical application of Montesquieu’s doctrine of separation of powers. The connection between these two doctrines in the American government is made by the theory of judicial review. The United States Supreme Court has held that, in order to guarantee the enforcement of natural rights, the power to make laws must be separated not only from the power to execute laws, but also from the power to review laws with their regard to their conformity with higher principles, as recognized by the United States Constitution. Thus, in the United States the courts, and especially the United States Supreme Court, have assumed guardianship over natural law.”
See Bodenheimer, Jurisprudence at p. 146
This separation of powers has served America well since 1789. As is to be expected in matters as complex as government and politics the powers of the three branches have each waxed and waned from time to time. However, we have always managed to keep our democracy by remaining moored to the rock upon which it was founded. Just as our founders recognized that individuals and governments will abuse power unless checked, they also recognized the danger and guarded against any of the three branches having unfettered power. The wisdom of Madison, et. al., is once again being tested. Has the Executive Branch gone outside its traces and incited violence against the Legislative Branch? Has the Legislative Branch blurred the boundaries that should keep all three branches separate by both charging an impeachment and then filling the role of the Judicial Branch by having one of its own members serve as the presiding officer at the trial? And, has the Judicial Branch been marginalized because the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court will not be serving as the neutral and detached trial judge as designed by our Founders.
For as Bodenheimer points out, “Any abuse of its power by the legislature should be curbed by the Judiciary Branch of the government, to which falls the duty of declaring void all statutes which are repugnant to the Constitution.” See Bodenheimer, Jurisprudence, at page 148. Perhaps Chief Justice John Roberts and the rest of the Supreme Court are anticipating being confronted with such an issue later.
The crimes that were committed on January 06, 2021 are being investigated and several alleged perpetrators have already been identified and charged. Numerous others will and should be. America’s normal criminal justice system can fairly and efficiently provide due process to those involved. If Donald Trump committed any state or federal crimes either on or before January 06, 2021 he can be prosecuted separately from the impeachment. And if a pardon is considered it would cover only federal offenses.
In our current test of our charter’s application, the Legislative Branch has filed an article impeaching the head of the Executive Branch, former President Donald Trump. It is alleged he engaged in:
“[H]igh crimes and Misdemeanors by inciting violence against the Government of the United States” on January 06, 2021 and for in the months preceding January 06, 2021 repeatedly issuing false statements asserting that the Presidential election results were the product of widespread fraud and should not be accepted by the America people or certified by State or Federal officials.
The Article of Impeachment was returned against President Donald Trump on January 13, 2021 while he was still the acting President. On January 25, 2021 after Donald Trump’s term had ended, the Article of Impeachment was sent to the Senate for trial. The Senate has set the trial to begin February 09, 2021 with Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat from Vermont, to preside and the senators to serve as jurors.
Article I, Section Three, of the U.S. Constitution provides that in the trial of the President of the United States the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shall preside. For reasons not yet fully explained, Chief Justice John Roberts will not be involved, so only two of our three equal branches of government will be embroiled in this matter of grave national concern. It is suggested that this is because Donald Trump is no longer President. However, that does not take into consideration the bed rock reason why the Founders made it mandatory for the Judicial Branch to be involved.
The impact of this omission upon public confidence in the fairness of the process is worthy of consideration. After all, it is not Donald Trump’s fate that is most important, but the country’s faith in the process that determines that fate. However, this faith might be shaken by a trial where the role of a “neutral and detached magistrate” is filled by a member of the body that both files and prosecutes the charge. Symbolism is important and a level scales of justice is one of our nation’s most potent and delicately balanced symbols.
The season of our discontent is set to begin February 08, 2021. Soon we will be forced to talk to our spouses again and eat an actual meal instead of gobble chicken wings during commercials or at half-times. I can feel the ennui closing in. ♫ It is a long, long time from February to September ♫ when football season returns. It is not that I have no interest in other sports, but other than the Olympic downhill ski race and the baseball World Series I just do not want to watch them on television. On the other hand, I will gladly spend four hours watching Goadie Bowl Tech and Reyfert Hogart Junior College drop passes and fumble kick-offs. Such pursuits as yard work and household chores quickly fade in the afterglow of a football game. Ah well, perhaps it will give me an opportunity to ask Peg what she has been doing since September 2020. Also, I might give some thought to such things as our battle with ’Ole 19 and our political malaise.
Perhaps I can combine my concerns about the end of the football season, the Corona Virus and such political madness as the January 06, 2021 assault on our Capitol including its impending impeachment imbroglio. After all, President Gerald Ford was the hero or villain, choose one, of the President Richard Nixon impeachment controversy and President Lyndon Johnson often alleged Ford’s decisions were affected by Ford’s having played too much football without a helmet. Gerald Ford played center on the University of Michigan football team. Ford graduated from college in 1935, an era when leather helmets were in vogue. For safety reasons leather has been gradually replaced with the rock-hard plastic we now use. Hello, spearing or targeting penalties and TIB’s (traumatic brain injuries). However, from an esthetic viewpoint, the hard plastic provides a better surface for team logos and sticker awards for hard hits.
Football and politics do have some similarities, and when it comes to dealing with misdeeds in either, the legal concept of attenuation is relevant. With football a hard hit with his helmet by one player against the head of another player can be analyzed by re-tracing backwards from the hit. While not even the player himself, or now perhaps herself too, may know for sure if he intended permanent harm, the referees and the re-play booth can carefully review and discuss the event. This may disclose guilt or innocence of the player but is he the only one to blame?
The fanatics who cheer on teams often call for the players to “fight’ or even “kill ’em”. One’s teammates may urge super aggression. Coaches spend months in conditioning drills and two-a-days pre-season practices explaining how starters push the limits while bench setters are more timid. And what about the player’s parents? Who is responsible for engendering mayhem instead of mercy?
The same type of analysis is an element of our criminal justice system. When there is a lynching, how far back the causal chain should punishment go? Is it just the one person who slips the noose over the victim’s neck? What about the on-lookers, the news media that fanned the flames, the leaders who gave rousing speeches, the sworn law officers who did not intervene and the rest of the community who acquiesced in silence either during or after the lynching? Perhaps an entire country might be responsible or even a silently accepting world. How do we decide whether we are applying appropriate punishment or simply burning a few witches to shoulder the blame for everyone?
Then, of course, we need to look at the dynamics of the attenuation itself. Who is making the choices about whom to burn? Are the decisions just or are they just decisions because the ones who execute them have the power to do so? And most importantly, are we a better society because of the choices or are we simply fomenting more targeting? Finally, where and how does it end?
The Salient Issue
One method of grappling with what are the most vital issues America must resolve is to first eliminate those issues that blur our thought process. Five years of partisan ill will have sapped our nation’s psyche. Our health and our economy have suffered as we have found it more entertaining to castigate those who disagree with our political views than to make the hard choices required to battle COVID-19 and its devastation of our society. The events of January 06, 2021 and our reactions to them will either continue us on our downward spiral, or perhaps, America can remember and apply the healing lessons from our history.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and Gerald Ford (1918-2006) would address the January 06, 2021 attack on our Capitol Building differently. Kant, the great German legal philosopher, would hold it immoral to not require retribution against President Trump for the death and destruction that occurred after Trump’s call for a march on Congress even though President Trump had only fourteen days left to serve when the riot took place. Kant’s position on the legal duty to punish is set forth in the following example. If we envision an island society that decided to dissolve itself completely and leave the island at a time prisoners sentenced to be executed were awaiting their fate, it would be immoral to leave the island without first carrying out the executions. Kant’s rationale for this seemingly needless act was that the blood guilt of the prisoners would attach to the general society if justice was not administered. An eye for an eye would be called for according to Kant.
In contrast, President Ford invoked the wisdom and healing of Jesus when Ford issued a pardon to disgraced ex-President Richard Nixon (1913-1994) for Nixon’s role in covering up the burglary of Democratic National Committee Headquarters. Ford issued the pardon in September only one month after Nixon resigned in August 1974 to avoid impeachment. Instead of retribution, Ford chose mercy, but not just for Nixon; America needed relief too.
Of course, neither revenge nor mercy can, by definition, be perfect justice. However, when it comes to crimes against the State there are larger issues than justice for individuals. The greater good may require a more involved response. Fortunately, we have the wisdom of our Founders and the courage of such leaders as President Ford to aid us in our decision-making process.
Separation of Powers
Our Founders built our Constitution on the general theory of three equal branches of government. The events since the election on November 03, 2020 give evidence of the abiding legacy left for us in 1789. After the election the Judicial Branch rendered numerous decisions that upheld the Rule of Law. Vice President Pence in the Executive Branch has refused to use the 25th Amendment for political purposes, and the Legislative Branch has resisted attempts to usurp the will of the electorate to de-certify the Electoral College results. Our governmental framework has been stretched but has accommodated pressures from many angles.
All three branches are working together to identify and prosecute those individuals who violated our seat of government with physical destruction and death. With the cooperation of numerous law enforcement agencies and the courts, along with the laws previously enacted by our federal and state legislatures, those who brought nooses, pipe bombs and twist-ties to their pre-meditated crimes are being identified; and if probable cause to commit crimes is shown, and guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is proven using due process of law, just punishment should result. Gentle Reader, next week, if you are available, we can consider the differing treatments of individuals and the issue surrounding the legal concepts of attenuation of culpability. As to President or ex-President Trump, I respectfully submit that continuing to have our country divided about half and half concerning Donald Trump is akin to President Lincoln’s prescient declaration that a house divided against itself will not stand.
With that in mind I submit for your consideration a Gavel Gamut article I wrote right after President Ford died in which it was suggested Ford sacrificed his political career for his country in 1974. I have slightly modified the original article:
Pardon Me, President Ford
(First published 08 January 2007)
President Gerald Ford died December 26, 2006. In a life filled with public service, he will always be best known for his pardon of President Nixon in 1974. President Nixon had personally chosen Gerald Ford to replace the disgraced Vice President Spiro Agnew who resigned in 1973 amid disclosures of bribery while Agnew was Governor of Maryland. Vice President Ford served under President Nixon until Nixon resigned in August of 1974. One month after Nixon resigned, President Ford issued him a full pardon for any crimes Nixon may have committed while president.
At the time, many Americans, including me, were calling for a complete investigation of the Watergate debacle and especially Nixon’s involvement in it. It was a time of a media feeding frenzy and blood in the water. President Ford took the unprecedented step of going personally before Congress and flatly stating that President Nixon and then Vice President Ford had no deal to pardon Nixon if Nixon would resign.
I recall how dubious I was when President Ford stated that he issued the pardon only to help our country to start healing from the loss of confidence caused by Watergate. Yet, after a few months I began to have second thoughts about my initial reaction to the pardon. I realized how much courage it took for President Ford to go straight into the anti-Nixon firestorm sweeping the United States. As a country, we were almost paralyzed by the partisan fighting at home and the War in Vietnam. [Insert 4 years of partisan bickering during the Trump presidency and include at least 1 year of COVID-19.] We needed a new direction and a renewed spirit in 1974 just as we do today. Surely President Ford with his twenty-two (22) years in Congress knew he was committing political suicide by not giving us our pound of flesh. Still, he put his country first. Of course, the country rewarded his sacrifice by booting him from office and electing President Jimmy Carter to replace him.
But during the campaign of 1976, when President Ford came to Evansville, Indiana on April the 23rd, I took our son, Jim, out of school and we went to the Downtown Walkway to see the man who put country above self. For while William Shakespeare almost always got his character analysis right, when it comes to President Ford, “The good he did lives after him.” Julius Caesar, Act III, sc. ii.
Even President Carter, one of America’s most courageous and best former presidents said of his erstwhile political opponent President Ford: “President Ford was one of the most admirable public servants I have ever known.” And when it came to the pardon of President Nixon, Senator Ted Kennedy, while admitting that he had severely criticized the pardon in 1974, said that he had later come to realize that:
“The pardon was an extraordinary act of courage that historians recognize was
truly in the national interest.”