As everyone knows by now, former President Gerald Ford died last week.  I have no real quarrel with the late President Ford, who, to his credit, would very likely have regarded all of the excessive to-do about him to be fairly embarrassing and unbecoming, but the way the media have been covering his funeral you would think that we had lost a long-reigning emperor.  The saccharine praise being heaped up on him and the rapid rewriting of history done for his benefit would probably make the most cynical panegyrist blush with shame.  Just the other day we were treated to an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal trying, among other things, to sell the Helsinki Accords of 1975 as something other than an embarrassing failure.  (Remember, folks, eastern Europe was not under Soviet domination!)  This is just one of the many things few people would say with any seriousness unless they were trying to find good things to say about the departed.   

Everyone seems to agree that he was a decent man, which is fine.  But it is a sorry commentary on the state of American politics then and now that he stands out sharply for his decency and honesty against the backdrop of general corruption and decline in public affairs.  What might have once been considered the bare minimum of integrity in office has now become a beacon to the rest of his generation and their ridiculous successors.  People seem to be taking such an interest in Ford’s career because I suspect they cannot imagine Congress ever offering up someone like him again (with perhaps the odd exception here or there).  This is not because such people are no longer with us, but because most of them would never go near Congress unless they were going as tourists (and perhaps not even then). 

Everyone who comments on the life and work of President Ford keeps talking about the ”healing” he supposedly worked on the troubled nation, c. 1974-76, and I am fairly sure that this is a lot of pious nonsense.  Pardoning Nixon was probably the wise and prudent move, but it is only with thirty-plus years of hindsight that we can say that it had any “healing” effects.  At best, we are stretching the truth to say that his administration brought “healing” to the country; at worst, it is pure psychobabble dressed up as eulogy.  Justice can sometimes do more to heal than clemency, provided that it is accountability and the rule of law that interest us rather than some mindless need for superficial national unity.  The pardon did spare the nation the spectacle of a disgraced ex-President being hounded from courtroom to courtroom, which only seems desirable for the most part for presidential cultists and enthusiasts for executive overreach.  I have never quite understood why we want our disgraced, almost certainly guilty magistrates to avoid the penalties that their actions merit.  I cannot understand why we want them to be able to evade undergoing the scrutiny to which all other citizens would have to submit were they to commit similar acts.  But then I think we should have a government of laws, and I am not in the majority in thinking this. 

Viewed as a matter of fostering some political consensus and as a way of encouraging collective forgetting, the pardon was genius.  As a matter of helping to strengthen the Republic and the republican inclinations of the people, it was a tremendous failure.  We should bear that in mind when next we hear someone waxing poetic about the legacy of President Ford.