September 15, 2012

Judging by Appearances

In one of my last posts, I told you about going to hear Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein speak as part of the 40th anniversary of Watergate. They only spoke in about 10 cities, so it was a fairly unique opportunity to hear their take on the events firsthand.

One of the most interesting parts of their talk centered on my favorite president, Gerald Ford. I know, he was president such a short time and you don't hear a lot of people say he's their favorite president, but I have admired him almost from the moment he took the oath of office. There was a bit of a detour in my admiration for him when he granted a pardon to Richard Nixon. That was largely because, at 15, I thought the trial of a former president would be great entertainment. By the time President Ford ran in 1976, I had changed my mind and respected him all the more for the pardon and I was disappointed that I was eight months too young to vote for him.

It took Woodward and Bernstein a little longer to come around. As they told the story, the Sunday morning that President Ford announced the pardon, Bernstein called Woodward, waking him. He didn't beat around the bush, blurting out "The S.O.B. pardoned the S.O.B." Only he didn't say "S.O.B.". They were both convinced that a deal had been made between Nixon and Ford before Nixon resigned but they could never find any evidence to substantiate their suspicions.

It was many years later, as the 25th anniversary of the Nixon resignation approached, when Woodward was working on a book and called President Ford and asked if he could talk to him. Ford immediately agreed to an interview. Woodward traveled to California and the two men met for the first time. President Ford spoke about the turmoil the country had already been through in the two years between the Watergate break-in and the resignation of President Nixon and his belief that a trial would have torn the country apart. He truly believed we needed to put it all behind us, and the only way to do that was to grant a pardon. Now he had said this before, including the first sworn testimony a sitting president had ever given before Congress, but it was the face-to-face conversation in the historical context provided by the passage of a quarter century that made Bob Woodward realize he and Carl Bernstein had been wrong about the pardon.

Source: Kennedy Library
Not only were Woodward and Bernstein convinced they had been wrong, but so was a vocal critic of the pardon, Ted Kennedy. Largely as a result of Woodward's book, the Kennedy Library awarded President Ford the Profile in Courage Award in 2001. This is a portion of Sen. Kennedy's speech as he presented the award:

At a time of national turmoil, American was fortunate that it was Gerald Ford who took the helm of the storm-tossed ship of state. Unlike many of us at the time, President Ford recognized that the nation had to move forward, and could not do so if there was a continuing effort to prosecute former President Nixon. So President Ford made a courageous decision, one that historians now say cost him his office, and he pardoned Richard Nixon. 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. 

It's easy to look at Woodward and Bernstein and wonder why it took them so long to realize they had been wrong, but the truth is we all allow our preconceptions to cloud our thinking. I see liberals who refuse to cut George W. Bush any slack and who question his motives in all areas. I see conservatives who refuse to cut Barack Obama any slack and who question his motives in all areas. If only we could set aside our emotions and political biases for a minute, we might get a glimpse of two decent men, each of whom has made some good decisions and some bad decisions. We might learn that it is possible to respect someone with whom we disagree on many issues. And we might just grow up a bit.

If only...

Until next time,

I said to myself, "In due season God will judge everyone, both good and bad, for all their deeds." ~ Ecclesiastes 3:17 (NIV)


  1. beautifully written, and i agree with your
    endorsement and think gerald ford might
    be the most underestimated not elected

  2. Thanks, Lea. I feel confident that in the "not elected" category, there's no contest. ;-)