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Friday, December 29, 2006

Ford Was No Fan of Bush -- He Should've Said So

The death of former President Gerald Ford was sure to bring controversy. Did pardoning Nixon help to heal the nation, as Ford put it, or did it just send the message that presidents can get away with anything? I'm with the latter school of thought -- our present circumstance shows the disaster that follows a president who knows there are no personal consequences to his recklessness. If you commit war crimes, you just redefine the term and, voila, you've never committed war crimes. You can spy on americans -- just as Nixon did -- and the worst that might happen is you lose the presidency. In George W. Bush's case, the worst that happens is that you get bad press.

We say that we are a nation of laws, not men. But that's only true so long as men are held to account by the law. Ford's decision set a precedent guaranteeing that they're not. People who believe they are above the law commit crimes. There's no reason for the just to ignore law; it's only those who know they're breaking the law who have reason to believe they're above it. If there were photos of Nixon in an orange jumpsuit, future presidents would be in the position that presidents were meant to be in -- they would fear the law. The elected should fear the people, not vice-versa. We have become a government of men, not laws, with the presidency morphed into a cult of personality.

All of which makes a 2004 interview of Ford with Bob Woodward interesting. It turns out that Ford wasn't a big fan of Bush and had become extremely critical of his former colleagues Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

The Washington Post:

Former President Gerald Ford said in an embargoed interview in July 2004 that the Iraq war was not justified. "I don't think I would have gone to war," he said a little more than a year after President Bush had launched the invasion advocated and carried out by prominent veterans of Ford's administration.

In a four-hour conversation at his house in Beaver Creek, Colo., Ford "very strongly" disagreed with the current president's justifications for invading Iraq and said he would have pushed alternatives, such as sanctions, much more vigorously. In the tape-recorded interview, Ford was critical not only of Bush but also of Vice President Dick Cheney -- Ford's White House chief of staff -- and then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who served as Ford's chief of staff and then his Pentagon chief.

"Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction," Ford said. "And now, I've never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do."

In my opinion, this represents Ford's second mistake -- he should've spoken his mind. Did Ford see the connection between his pardoning of Nixon and the current president? The article doesn't really say -- the interview with Woodward was for a 'future book,' so all we really get is a taste. It'd be nice to think so. But it wouldn't help us any.

There's a tradition that former presidents don't criticize subsequent presidents. Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter have been moving away from that tradition. If you think about it, the tradition really serves no purpose. Guys who've held the job would have a good idea how to do it well. Even if you don't believe these former presidents did a good job, you have to appreciate the unique perspective they bring to the conversation.

According to Woodward's article, "Ford said his comments could be published at any time after his death." Ford was keeping with the tradition. He'd held his tongue for nearly two years, while watching the disaster of the Bush administration unfold.

Gerald Ford had the opportunity to mitigate his first mistake. Not taking that opportunity was his final mistake.


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