The thing that came across always about Gerald Ford, in person and on television, was the word that everyone uses about him -- decency. He was nice guy. A decent guy, who didn't have a mean bone in his body. He was honest and good and he tried always to do the right thing, even when the right thing would, he knew, get him into hot water. Like pardoning a former president whom almost everyone wanted to see hung out to dry. It has been speculated that, with a 75% approval rating in August of '74, Ford might have thought he could coast through the firestorm. But in interview after interview given between 1975 and his last in 2003, Ford was clear that he knew full well he'd be reviled for his decision at the time. He knew it might cost him re-election, and he also knew it was something he had to do, for the good of the nation.
In hindsight, of course, most of us would now agree with him, regardless of how violently we opposed Nixon's pardon at the time. Nothing was more exculpatory for Ford than the Clinton impeachment hearings. They nearly tore this country to bits, and they were only over a lie told about a blowjob in the West Wing. It is difficult to imagine, given what state we were in after months and months of televised Watergate hearings, how we would have survived the several months of testimony in a Nixon criminal trial, and still emerged with our democracy, let alone our sanity, intact. Moving on, Ford concluded, was the only correct solution. Let Nixon go be Nixon in San Clemente.
A day short of one month earlier, Ford had proclaimed the "our long national nightmare is over." On the day he pardoned Nixon, he said simply, "My conscience tells me clearly and certainly that I cannot prolong the bad dreams that continue to reopen a chapter that is closed. My conscience tells me that only I, as President, have the constitutional power to firmly shut and seal this book." People screamed bloody murder.
It is so hard for me to recall when any president, let alone a Republican, acted "truly in the American interest" or placed "his love of country ahead of his own political future." Ford was the last of the moderate Republicans, the last Republican who campaigned on a pro-choice platform, and the only President I think we've ever seen in my lifetime who had a real marriage to a real woman. The election on November 2, 1976, between two of the most moderate, most decent, most honorable men in history (though probably two of the personally dullest), was one of the closest counts in American history. Ford lost, but only just barely.
Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr.
"In vain do they talk of happiness who never subdued
an impulse in obedience to a principle.
He who never sacrificed a present to a future good,
or a personal to a general one, can speak of
happiness only as the blind speak of color."