Sunday, September 8, 2013
On this day in history, September 8, 1974: President Ford granted an unconditional pardon to former President Nixon.
On December 18, 1974, I turned 18. This made me eligible for the draft (which by then had been abolished but I still had to register), allowed to drink my first legal beer, which was at Tumulty's Pub in New Brunswick, and eligible to vote.
I missed by just under two months 1974 Election Day, which would have been the House and one Senator probably (I can look it up but I don't feel like it). The next year was an off-year in most states, but in New Jersey we elect our State Legislators in odd years. I don't remember if I bothered to vote in 1975.
1976 was a different story. It was a Presidential Election year. I was born and raised in a Democratic household and couldn't wait to vote down the Democratic line. We had a choice between some rube from Georgia (*) named Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, and the incumbent Gerald Ford, a Republican.
(*) Like many north-easterners who didn't travel much, I had a dim view of southerners and the South. I am now older and wiser.
When the news came out about Gerald Ford pardoning Richard Nixon for unnamed crimes, I was ambivalent. I didn't like the idea of Nixon getting away with his crimes, but Ford seemed like an honest guy and he believed he was doing what was best for the country, getting past the Watergate hangover so the country could move on to other things. When he was called into Congress to testify about an alleged secret deal, he did not hide behind Executive Privilege but rather sat before Congress and testified. And I didn't think Nixon would live that long anyway.
I was impressed by what I saw as a profile in courage. Ford knew he was committing political suicide, but he granted the pardon anyway (apparently, Caroline Kennedy agreed). So, when I got in the voting booth for the very first time, I did something I didn't ever think in my wildest nightmares I would do - I voted for Gerald Ford, a Republican, for President.
I don't remember if I told anyone. I preferred to hide my shame while still feeling comfortable with my choice.
However, as time went on, I saw Nixon staging a comeback, trying to repair his reputation by writing books, doing the David Frost interviews, keeping a relatively low profile but still making appearances and getting paid. He lived in Saddle River, NJ, not far from my parents. After a decade or so his high crimes and misdemeanors against the United States were largely forgotten. I realized I had made a terrible mistake.
I hope history treats Jimmy Carter better than he was treated when he was president. He was the only president in modern history not to have a war. Although the Iranian hostage crisis happened on his watch, we now know that an agreement had been made to release the hostages but George H.W. Bush )the only person alive at the time who can't remember where he was on 11/22/63) negotiated with the Iranian government to hold on to the hostages until January, virtually guaranteeing Carter's defeat. Jimmy Carter was also right when he gave that energy crisis speech in his cardigan sweater. No one listened.
We also now know that in 1968 Nixon sabotaged the Paris peace talks to prolong the Vietnam War to help his election chances. That was treason. LBJ knew about it, but did nothing about it. Nixon was a crook.
So, in hindsight, I believe Gerald Ford's pardon for Nixon was the wrong thing to do. Nixon should have stood trial and been punished for his crimes.
Fast forward to 2009: newly-elected President Barack Obama decided not to prosecute Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, and their cronies for war crimes committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Gerald Ford had set the precedent.
So, here is my confession: On November 2, 1976, I voted for Gerald Ford, a Republican, for President of the United States. It was my first Presidential election and I blew it.
Since then I have never again voted for a Republican in a federal or statewide election.
Please forgive me.