Ford’s Legacy: Lawless Government

The Future of Freedom Foundation today posted online my piece from the March 2007 Freedom Daily on Gerald Ford.

And to think that I actually passed out a few leaflets for that guy in 1976, back before my conversion to Cynicism…… I still recall sitting in a bar in Blacksburg, watching a Ford-Carter debate with other guys who were Ford supporters.    Somewhere after the 4th or 5th beer, I heard Ford make his famous utterance that the Soviet Union did not dominate Poland.  Despite the beer, my jaw dropped and I was mortified to hear him repeat that utter doggerel….

Ford’s Legacy: Lawless Government
by James Bovard

The death of former President Gerald Ford unleashed a tidal wave of bathos and political bunkum across the land. Ford was far more exalted in death than he had been during his time in office. Slate’s Timothy Noah critically noted, “Within the narrow confines of Permanent Washington — the journalists, lobbyists, and congressional lifers who are the city’s avatars of centrism and continuity — Ford is considered the beau ideal of American leadership.”

Washingtonians praise pliable politicians for not being “ideologues.” In other words, they don’t object to the abuse of power. Ford is portrayed as a friend of good government, but in reality he was a friend of Leviathan — and this is what cinched his good reputation in Washington.

On a personal level, Gerald Ford was one of the least venal presidents of modern times. He vetoed bad bills with a courage that has not been matched by any other Republican. He restrained himself from launching major new wars.

But Ford’s pleasant demeanor was irrelevant the day he left the White House. He was an “honest” man who did little or nothing to expose dishonest government — the favorite type of honest man for the Washington establishment. He was someone who looks respectable and dignified but permits government agencies to continue shredding the rights of American citizens and inflicting harm here and abroad.

Gerald Ford is a hero in Washington in part because he covered up the crimes of the state. His most famous action was his pardoning of Richard M. Nixon, the man who chose him to be vice president after Spiro Agnew was forced to resign in disgrace. Nixon was guilty of illegally invading a foreign country (Cambodia); of perpetuating the war in Vietnam for political purposes and his 1972 reelection campaign; of violating the rights of tens of thousands of Americans with the illegal FBI COINTELPRO program; of sanctioning CIA violence and subversion around the globe; and Watergate, as well as many other offenses. Nixon also created Amtrak.

Many people assume that President Ford pardoned Nixon only for Watergate. In reality, Ford’s pardon was so sweeping — forgiving Nixon for any and every possible crime he may have committed — that it would have exempted Nixon even from charges of genocide:

Now, therefore, I, Gerald R. Ford, President of the United States, pursuant to the pardon power conferred upon me by Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, have granted and by these presents do grant a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 20, 1969, through August 9, 1974.

Ford’s pardon effectively closed the book on holding Nixon culpable for his crimes against the Constitution, Americans, and millions of other people around the world.

Consequences of the pardon

If Nixon had been publicly tried and a full accounting of his abuses made to the American public, it may have been far more difficult for subsequent presidents to cover up their crimes. Politicians remembering Nixon’s punishment and humiliation might have been slower to lie the nation into unnecessary foreign wars. If Ford was hell-bent on pardoning his friend, he should have had the decency to wait until the evidence was on the table.

And those who are concerned about how Nixon would have personally suffered from being prosecuted for all his crimes are cold-hearted towards the tens of thousands of Americans who have been killed and maimed in subsequent unnecessary wars. Making one politician pay the price of his conduct could have saved Americans and the world vast suffering.

But the friends of Leviathan have benefited immensely from the obscuring, if not the burying, of the vast majority of the crimes of the Nixon era. The more clearly people recalled Nixon’s abuses, the more difficult it would be to sway them to accept that government is inherently benevolent and trustworthy. The media’s Nixon rendition routinely starts and stops at Watergate. It is typical of the establishment media to treat a crime against a competing political party as a far graver offense than the trampling of the rights of tens of thousands of Americans by COINTELPRO (which began in the late 1950s and metastasized under Lyndon Johnson).

Ford’s pardon of Nixon set a precedent of absolute immunity for the president for all crimes committed in office. Nixon told interviewer David Frost in 1977, “When the president does it that means that it is not illegal.” Frost, somewhat dumbfounded, replied, “By definition?” Nixon answered, “Exactly. Exactly.”

Ford’s pardon proclaimed a new doctrine in American law and politics — that one president can absolve another president of all his crimes and all his killings. His pardon signaled the formal end of the rule of law in America.

Ford’s expansive use of the pardon helped pave the way for George H.W. Bush’s Iran-Contra pardons — thus blocking the investigation of the independent counsel, Lawrence Walsh. If Walsh had been able to get access to the key information, then the reputation of George H.W. Bush could have been so tarnished that no other Bush could easily ascend to the presidency.

Clinton got away with horrendous abuse of the pardon power, using it practically openly to raise campaign contributions (including contributions for his wife) and collect favors. Bush will very likely vastly up the ante, as he has done with so many other Clinton abuses.

The lesson that Ford’s top advisors seemed to draw from the pardon is that the government can break the law with impunity. Ford’s former chief of staff, Dick Cheney, has brought this doctrine into the Bush administration, where it helped unleash torture around the world.

Trampling the Constitution

The National Cathedral was packed on January 2 for Ford’s funeral, but no uninvited Americans were permitted to attend. The crowd was carefully screened to make sure there was no one who would holler the wrong thing during the eulogies.

The evil that Ford helped unleash was reflected in President Bush’s eulogy to him on January 2. Bush continually praised Ford’s “character and humility” as a way to have some of the luster shine back on himself: “He belonged to a generation that measured men by their honesty and their courage … a man whose character and leadership would bring calm and healing to one of the most divisive moments in our nation’s history.”

There is peril in tolerating this notion of president as a “healer in chief.” This is one more shell that politicians can shuffle in their circus shell game to distract people from what they are actually up to.

Bush hailed Ford because he “helped restore trust in the workings of our democracy.” This faith in the “workings of democracy” helped keep Americans docile in the Florida election shenanigans in 2000 and to Bush’s lying the nation into war in 2003.

Bush’s father, in his eulogy, reached even further back to contort history to polish Leviathan’s apple. George H.W. Bush declared, “Just as President Lincoln’s stubborn devotion to our Constitution kept the Union together during the Civil War … so too can we say that Jerry Ford’s decency was the ideal remedy for the deception of Watergate.” During his time, Lincoln was known as the great destroyer of the Constitution, since he suspended habeas corpus, jailed 20,000 people without charges, forcibly shut down hundreds of newspapers that criticized him, and sent in federal troops to shut down state legislatures.

Perhaps devotion to the Constitution is measured these days by the number of constitutional amendments one will trample. Lincoln is George W. Bush’s favorite president, and perhaps it is no surprise that he consistently shows Lincolnian devotion to the Constitution. And it is ironic to hear George H.W. Bush talking about decency during the Watergate crisis, since he himself mouthed many lies and deceptions defending Nixon against scandal charges while he was serving as Republican national chairman at that time.

Former President Bush also lionized Ford for his role in past government cover-ups:

After a deluded gunman assassinated President Kennedy, our nation turned to Gerald Ford and a select handful of others to make sense of that madness. And the conspiracy theorists can say what they will, but the Warren Commission report will always have the final definitive say on this tragic matter. Why? Because Jerry Ford put his name on it and Jerry Ford’s word was always good.

This is how honesty is defined in Washington. The establishment certifies a politician as honest, and everything that politician subsequently touches thereby becomes honest. Bush’s invocation of Ford’s role in the Warren Commission vivifies the utter contempt that official Washington has for the American people. During his time on the Warren Commission, Ford arrogated to himself the role of forensic pathologist-in-chief. The final staff report said that the bullet that Oswald fired hit John Kennedy in the upper back. Ford changed the report to claim that the bullet entered Kennedy’s body “at the back of the neck.” Ford’s revision was crucial to support the single-bullet theory of the assassination (often derided as “the magic bullet”).

Ford’s “fix” on the key passage in the text was not revealed until 1997, when records were released by the Assassination Record Review Board. He never disclosed who prompted him to amend the official record. The revelation of his manipulating the Warren Commission official report did nothing to affect his reputation with the national media. (The media’s acquiescence to the formal investigation of the assassination of John Kennedy reveals their complicity in government cover-ups. Top federal officials assured the public that the Warren Commission provided the whole truth and nothing but the truth — but sealed the records and did not plan to open the files for 75 years. The message was, “Trust us — we will let your great-grandchildren see the evidence.”)

One wire-service article on the funeral was headlined, “Ford Praised for Sincerity, Integrity.” The story noted without derisive comment that among the chief designated mourners were Henry Kissinger, Donald Rumsfeld, and Cheney.

When Ford was in office, the media mercilessly ridiculed him. Now that he is dead, he is being portrayed as the Michigan equivalent of a wise statesman. But Ford at his worst made even George W. Bush look relatively astute. During a 1976 presidential candidate debate with Jimmy Carter, Ford proclaimed, “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration.” Ford sounded as if he had never heard of the existence of the Warsaw Pact. This comment may have made the difference in Ford’s defeat by a narrow margin a few weeks later in the national election.

When Ford pardoned Nixon, he condemned future generations of Americans to being governed by lawless presidents. The adulation of Gerald Ford is a reminder of how official Washington is always biased in favor of the cover-up.

James Bovard is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy [2006] as well as The Bush Betrayal [2004], Lost Rights [1994] and Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice and Peace to Rid the World of Evil (Palgrave-Macmillan, September 2003).


29 Responses to Ford’s Legacy: Lawless Government

  1. Dirk W. Sabin June 20, 2007 at 1:12 pm #

    Gerald Ford likely was a “decent” guy in that kind of plodding , company-man kind of way that the current Beltway-Manhattan establishment loves to promote. Although not stupid, He also made it easier for the public to accept pedestrian intelligence in the Oval Office to an extent that we now readily embrace substantially less than pedestrian intelligence. While there have been many “average” or middling minds in the White House throughout our history, the frequency of them now (Clinton is bright but hides it in public, choosing to aw-shucks it) has actually validated the prevailing anti-intellectualism of the national mood.

    If we were a nation that stuck to ourselves rather than going abroad in search of all manner of monsters to either buy, coopt, browbeat or destroy, it would not be so bad that we were a nation of incurious, self-absorbed dolts. But we are not and seem to want to resurrect the era of entitlement when the stunted or depauperate minds that typify the inbred European Royalty operated on imperial whim, stroked by all kinds of political operators on the make. These types of leaders and governments coincide with extended periods of war and instability…..”Hundred Years War”…..”era of permanent terrorism”…sound familiar?

    We still have the rudimentary remains of a meritocracy in this country but nobody should think it is anywhere near as strong as when Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon. The Ugly American, on the virge of shedding this old wardrobe on 9/11 has allowed himself to enter an era of Ugly, Dumb, Sadistic and Venal Americans. We can certainly emerge out of this apparent cloak of idiocy but it will not be possible with the media hounds and insoucient narccicists that the nation seems to be so fond of now.

    Cultural Conservativism and Political Correctness, brother and sister, have married and produced an idiot child that smiles alot but is simply not up to the task of managing the empire it is so hellbent on creating. If terrorism had not existed, they would have created it because empires need external villains to keep the subjects lulled into compliant acceptance.Karl Rove is the byproduct of this type of cynical government where “the average Joe” is championed while being pistol-whipped politically and economically. His sneering superiority and arrogance is barely concealed by the kind of overt jocularity that was pioneered by Eddie Haskell.People seem to think that their government should be managed by men who consider sadistic practical jokes to be an expression of intelligence as long as we can imagine having a beer and pretzel while watching a football game with them.

    Among other things, Gerald Ford pardoned a smart, calculating and scandalously imperious mind and innaugurated an entrenched era of leaders who are not only incurious but are proud of it. Erudite men like the Founders are treated as oddities and never make it past a few dismissive rounds of ridicule. There may be no child left behind but it is made equally clear that there should be no child smarter than average.

  2. Mace Price June 20, 2007 at 3:36 pm #

    …Just think Jim, where you might be today if you hadn’t converted to Cynicism.

  3. Jim June 20, 2007 at 8:25 pm #

    Still on parole?

  4. Jim June 20, 2007 at 8:26 pm #

    Dirk – yes, it is sad to think how this country & the citizenry have gotten uglier in many ways since Gerald Ford’s time….

  5. Orville H. Larson June 21, 2007 at 12:50 am #

    I well remember Nixon’s resignation in August 1974, and his maudlin, self-pitying remarks afterwards.

    When the crook Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973, Nixon nominated Gerald Ford to replace him. (Nixon preferred John Connally, but Connally had too much baggage.) In deciding on Ford, Nixon got a nice, safe, plodding, 25-year Congressional hack. Ford’s two-and-a-half year presidency was undistinguished.

    Despite the denials, it’s likely that Nixon and Ford privately agreed that in return for Nixon’s resignation, Ford would wipe him clean with a pardon. (One President’s justice-avoiding gift to another, as it were.)

    Slimy political bastards.

  6. americanintifada June 21, 2007 at 1:55 am #

    I may be mistaken in my old age, but on the day he was instated as president, didn’t Gerald Ford answer a reporter’s question about a pardon for Nixon with the answer “I don’t think the American people would stand for that.”

    And wasn’t it one month to the day later that he subsequently issued that pardon which we have had to “stand for” lo these many years?

    Slimy political bastards indeed! Some things never change.

  7. Mace Price June 21, 2007 at 4:30 am #

    …Ford didn’t have enough brains to wipe his ass. That’s why Kissinger et al installed him in The White House. That way they could put the Nixon legacy behind them, and go on to “bigger, and better things.” The Policies and consequences of which you are now witness to. Most of these nihilistic sonsofbitches responsible for the current state of affairs in the Middle East came out of Gerald Ford’s Caretaker Administration.

  8. Tory June 21, 2007 at 6:07 am #

    Watergate was small compared to what Ford was required to help coverup.

    The JFK plot may lead to tricky dick; with important elements tied to shrub Sr and Jr. Jr’s role to maintain the secrecy and protection until all the players are dead (Dulles and dicky so far). Neocons are a deadly bunch. Many a citizen have perished on passenger aircraft since JFK went down. Teddy almost died in 1964 after his went down (6-19-64). JFK Jr met his fate in good weather (in cold water.)

    It’s possible that Deleay plaza was filled with a whole slew of assasins waiting for Red (in the event anyone missed their target.) Yea, US mafiosos, Cuban mafia and even CIA agents. Sr was there, at the depository.

    Jack mustered up a huge quantity of hate for lack of airpower at the Bay of Pigs. Conservatives don’t like it when their assets are taken from them (even if they acquired them by hustle and conartistry.) They found utility in a CIA. Slush funds ran amuck (another dicky creation – compliments of us fruit and pepsi-COLA nuts.)

    JFK pitted and organized a nation of deadly neocons against anyone who resisted.

    I’m telling you 99% of the nation blamed Oswald while another small percentage (all on the right) knew the plot thoroughly, all along. “We gottem on their last throes” too.

    Ford’s pardon me was crucial. Government is our worst enemy.

    [the king of conspiracy)

  9. Jim June 21, 2007 at 8:54 am #

    I don’t think there was such a grandiose conspiracy behind the JFK shooting. Maybe a small one, but nothing that large.

    I saw in the bookstore that there is a new edition of the Warren Commission report out – and bolded on the front was A NEW FOREWORD by Gerald Ford (or something like that).

    Bizarre that this dude would have any credibility on that subject.

    Some people just want to believe…

  10. Lawhobbit June 21, 2007 at 9:47 am #

    Soooo….you supported Gerald Ford.

    Enquiring minds want to know what sort of penance you’re going to offer your fan base for your serious lapse in judgement. I’m not sure that, “Forgive me, I was young and thoughtless” is going to cut it here. 😈

  11. Jim June 21, 2007 at 9:57 am #

    Drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon during the Ford-Carter debate was not sufficient penance?

  12. Tory June 21, 2007 at 10:28 am #

    Plenty of good evidence that Oswald acted alone. Problem is determining his motive. Oswald was pro Castro, Kennedy prevented an anti Castro takeover so why would Oswald assasinate him ?

    Three shots were proven to be fired from his manual bolt rifle in less than 9 seconds. But Oswald had no experience shooting a manual bolt rifle quickly and accurately (one shot hit the head.)

    Ford (republican) was on the Warrren commision along with ALLEN DULLES (CIA director just prior to JFK assasination!) Dulles was a board member of United Fruit. JFK replaced him. That’s like police investigating police abuses. end.

    Shrub sr: Owner of pennzoil (operation zapata (bay of pigs codename)). Was in Dallas on 11-22-63. United Fruit and Zapata oil are one and the same. Nothing new here except a photo of agent Joannides (Miami, 62) at LA hotel when RK was murdered. Hey, like father like son, a bold facer.

    There’s a common thread here that goes back to Smedly Butler (hit man.) They used the Monroe doctrine first then morality. I don’t blame them but now we pay trillions in the Middle East. Oh what a web we weave. SB 1237…we lose our freedom over fresh fruit and grease. I like your last two sentences Jimmy.

  13. americanintifada June 21, 2007 at 10:41 am #

    Drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon at any time only means that one has bad taste in beer, not poor judgement in political decision-making. Speaking of which, does anybody here still have those “WIN” buttons that were passed out by the Ford administration as the best way to stop the so-called recession and “Whip Inflation Now” or is it the Alzheimer’s taking over my brain cells again?

  14. Jim June 21, 2007 at 10:57 am #

    Yes, those WIN buttons were a hoot.

    They certainly aided my conversion to Cynicism.

    On the Pabst Blue Ribbon – I have had worse beers, and I enjoyed it at the time….

  15. Lawhobbit June 21, 2007 at 11:39 am #

    PBR is not much in the way of penance.

    Now if it had been Gibbons or Stegmaier, I’d say you’d done your duty and we could move on.

  16. Jim June 21, 2007 at 11:46 am #

    And if it had been Guinness, that would be sufficient penance even if I had volunteered for the first George W. Bush presidential campaign.

    OK, maybe nothing would be sufficient penance for that – but Guinness would be damn close.

  17. americanintifada June 21, 2007 at 12:25 pm #

    One man’s meat is another man’s poison, as my pappy used to say. Being of Irish heritage, I am quite fond of Michael Collins and consider him to be a freedom fighter. But one man’s freedom fighter is a Bushanista’s terrorist. I also prefer Guinness stout over any American brew and would fancy a pint right now. An old Irish saying is “Ya doon buy beer, me lad, ya only rent it!” So I’ll be spendin’ the rest of the day doing elbow lifts pressing aluminum and glass in reps of 12 and 24!

    Speaking of Pabst Blue Ribbon, Dennis Hopper was quite fond of that particular beer in the movie “Blue Velvet”. I wonder – does anybody here think that nasty brew has some kind of mind-controlling substance that turned poor old Dennis around from a free-wheeling, freedom-loving hippie into a hard-core Bushanista warmonger? And maybe even temporarily turned Jim Bovard into a Ford man?

    Inquiring minds must know!

  18. Dirk W. Sabin June 21, 2007 at 3:54 pm #

    Herr Bovard,
    Claiming any beer as penance, even Carling Black Label say…or Old Milwaukee Talls is alarmingly close to the kind of faux-contrition soon to be layed out in splendor as Scooter is pardoned and the public yawns because gosh, he’s a nice guy.

    However, listening to me yammer on and on and on is an authentic penance and you can claim it, similar to having to drink that 3.2 swill sold as a product of hops fermentation in the Utah Theocratic Land of Fairy Tales and Sunbeams. Sadistic Smiling Reprobates, allowing beer but requiring a 3.2 alcohol content, it is likely one of the foundational sets of malignant thinking that launched the young Rove on his continuing campaign to turn the Republic into a cross between a Branson Floorshow and a circa 1973 Times Square, without benefit of the peep shows (thus leaving primarily pickpocketry, paranoia and a prevailing thugishness.).

    My brother Rastus, an unrepentant Palo Alto Democrat was always better at getting right to the heart of the matter in his agitprop. On the eve of the election day for Tricky and Agnew, Rastus snuck out in the middle of the night and did a little doctoring on the downtown campaign poster. He placed a hangman’s hood on Agnews head and a Pirate Patch on Tricky’s eye along with a hook on his upstretched hand ……and completed the picture by blacking the “w” and the word “than” out of the political statement , leaving the words “No More Ever” to greet the morning commuters. Damned if I have not always regretted not taking a proper photo.

    But, fast forward and the bookend to the Tricksters sordid reign is found in all the dysfunctional rats spawned by his sinking ship . The Deesider in Cheef makes Nixon look like Albert Schweitzer and Deadeye Dick makes Agnew look like Red Skelton on Darvon. They did at least learn that a draft is bad for the polls even though they don’t ever look at polls…honest. Polls….? they don’t need no stinken polls.

    Patience Tricky Dick and Spiro, pretty soon there will be a couple new clowns plop through the lobby doors to your little motel hell below and you can climb out of the muck and take a few breaths by surmounting their shoulders. We’ve so far survived the political equivalent of a relapse of shingles, the Republic is still ahead…..for now.

  19. Jim June 21, 2007 at 4:34 pm #

    Geez, I admit to having drank Pabst Blue Ribbon and then someone compares me to Scooter Libby.

    I have never even talked to Judith Miller, much less on background.

    For the record: Since I was raised Presbyterian, the standards for penance are very light, on par with 3.2% beer.

  20. Jerry June 21, 2007 at 5:08 pm #

    @Orville: In high school twelve years ago, my World History teacher told us that Nixon and Ford made the Resignation-Pardon deal, stated as fact. Personally, I can’t believe that there wasn’t a deal. As for the one month waiting period. There was no internet, say one thing one month, do something else the next, the news media wouldn’t pick up on it. They’re usually just compliant with whatever the government decides to do.

    @Jim: Yeah, we all believed in idiots before we converted. I used to believe that Clinton was a perfectly great president. Then I turned 17. If you drank PBR to make up for it, that’s punishment enough…

  21. Mace Price June 21, 2007 at 7:08 pm #

    …If you want a hangover that will cause you to lie perfectly still for 8-12 hours, and make you seriously consider AA?–Try some of that rotgut 10.5% to 12% Malt Liquor being marketed presently…Some of the worst tasting and highly intoxicating beverage alcohol I have ever drank.

  22. Jim June 21, 2007 at 7:56 pm #

    Sad but true.

    When I lived briefly in Illinois, I had a neighbor from south Chicago who implored me to sample his favorite – Pink Champale.

    That stuff tasted worse than a Bulgarian shotputter’s muff.

  23. Lawhobbit June 21, 2007 at 8:42 pm #

    Jim…just how, I am forced to ask, do you know what a Bulgarian shotputter’s muff tastes like?

  24. Jim June 21, 2007 at 8:48 pm #

    Sports Illustrated had a cover story on the subject back in 1978.

    It was during the time that the Carter administration was pursuing Detente with the Soviets, so that may have flavored the reporting.

  25. Mace Price June 21, 2007 at 9:47 pm #

    …Well, I don’t know fer shore…But I’d go so fur as to say that no female, Bulgarian, Tasmanian or otherwise could possibly taste as bad as that shit. And with that the case? I’m considering sending The Decider himself a couple cases of 24 oz. cans as said penance. Make him stipulate to drinkin’ ’em hot too! If he won’t observe the provisions of the 1949 Geneva Convention?—Then By God I won’t either.

  26. Mace Price June 21, 2007 at 9:51 pm #

    …That’s right! Now down the hatch Dubya!

  27. Tory June 22, 2007 at 7:31 am #

    I’ll bet he ordered the nurder of Johnny Jr.

    Peanut man can’t talk – no one could – because of the money.

    We have went from banana republic to oil republic; from send in the marines to send in the cia (to killing our own). The end is not in sight.

  28. Tory June 22, 2007 at 8:47 am #

    CIA to air it’s dirty laundry:

    some of it.

  29. Mace Price June 24, 2007 at 12:10 am #

    …Yeah, sure. But it’s the same airing they did 25 years ago. If ya don’t believe me? ask Bovard.