Tuesday, January 02, 2007

b. Leslie Lynch King, Jr. (1913-2006)

by Ken Houghton

(UPDATE: edited for consistency and tone)

The first adoptee President, the only president never elected to either the Presidency or the Vice Presidency (even by the Supreme Court), a football star on two National Championship teams who got a reputation for being a klutz, the man who selected Nelson Rockefeller to be his Vice President but ran for election with Bob Dole, the man who first gave amnesty to some who fled the Viet Nam War, the man known as Gerald Ford died physically last week.

Gerald Ford's wife Betty (still living) did more for people than any First Lady since Eleanor Roosevelt. Ford himself did not get involved with his wife's activities, save to support her and her involvement. As Digby said,
Betty [Ford] remains my favorite first lady of all time. She was funny and human and normal....[S]he went on to be one of the first famous women to announce that she was fighting breast cancer and founded the Betty Ford clinic not long after. She has done a world of good for the recovery movement.

Ford himself had a storied career; in a sense, he was the Lee Hamilton of his day (back in the day when Lee Hamilton was my congressman). He was one of the point men on the legendary Warren Commission Report, a precursor to the 9-11 Commission Report in more ways than one. He was a minority leader who did not launch ad hominem attacks on the opposition, which he surely viewed as Loyal. To quote Digby again, "He was a decent man who had a good sense of humor."

But decent men sometimes do indecent things.* His soul was mortally wounded on 8 September 1974. He stated his reasoning clearly:
"The facts, as I see them, are that a former president of the United States, instead of enjoying equal treatment with any other citizen accused of violating the law, would be cruelly and excessively penalized either in preserving the presumption of his innocence or in obtaining a speedy determination of his guilt in order to repay a legal debt to society," Ford said....

"During this long period of delay and potential litigation, ugly passions would again be aroused. And our people would again be polarized in their opinions. And the credibility of our free institutions of government would again be challenged at home and abroad," he said.

And his reasoning failed, as he may have feared it must. The pardon came soon enough—just under a month into his term—that it appeared (still appears to many, probably most) that the Fix Was In, and that Alexander Haig's message was received.

The reasoning received multiple wounds later:

  1. It was recapitulated abusively by George Herbert Walker Bush:
    Some of the best and most dedicated of our countrymen were called upon to step forward. Secretary Weinberger was among the foremost.

    Caspar Weinberger is a true American patriot. He has rendered long and extraordinary service to our country....Caspar Weinberger served in all these positions with distinction and was admired as a public servant above reproach....

    I am pardoning him not just out of compassion or to spare a 75- year-old patriot the torment of lengthy and costly legal proceedings, but to make it possible for him to receive the honor he deserves for his extraordinary service to our country...

    I have also decided to pardon five other individuals for their conduct related to the Iran-Contra affair: Elliott Abrams, Duane Clarridge, Alan Fiers, Clair George, and Robert McFarlane. First, the common denominator of their motivation--whether their actions were right or wrong--was patriotism. Second, they did not profit or seek to profit from their conduct. Third, each has a record of long and distinguished service to this country. And finally, all five have already paid a price--in depleted savings, lost careers, anguished families--grossly disproportionate to any misdeeds or errors of judgment they may have committed.

  2. It led to the rehabilitation of Nixon as a "statesman," while the statesmanlike Ford is left being cited for " devotion to duty, his personal character and the honorable conduct of his administration" by a man who exemplifies the antithesis of all of the above.
  3. He may have realised that Kissinger had "the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew," but he didn't think that through or he willingly set the table for Iran-Contra and other extralegal invasions of sovereignty.
  4. By 2000, he had seen the way the wind had blown, and declared publicly that it would probably be his last Republican National Convention. At the time, it brought into perspective the last verse of Townes van Zandt's Pancho and Lefty:
    The poets tell how Pancho fell
    Lefty's livin' in a cheap hotel
    The desert's quiet and Cleveland's cold
    So the story ends we're told
    Pancho needs your prayers it's true,
    But save a few for Lefty too
    He just did what he had to do
    Now he's growing old

Ford tried to get along with everyone, and ended up facilitating those who want to get along with no one. His kind will be missed, but it will be due to a veil of nostalgia that has no basis in reality.

*As Lou Reed once noted, "The goodly hearted made lampshades and soap"
Excellent post, Ken. I don't think the questionable "healing" properties of the Nixon pardon can be emphasized enough. Though there's considerable irony that had he *not* pardoned Nixon, and presumably been elected (and thus fallen into Carter's fatal oil/Mideast trap), I might not have to grit my teeth at the late Republican congressional majority's renaming of every friggin' thing in Washington after the Gipper.

Also, it may bear mentioning that while Bob Dole may be no Nelson Rockefeller, he also isn't in the league of Brownback and Roberts.
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