December 29, 2006

New light on the Nixon-Ford relationship.

Bob Woodward reveals information he characterizes as showing that Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon were closer friends than we'd thought:
During one of the darkest days of the Watergate scandal, Nixon secretly confided in Ford, at the time the House minority leader. He begged for help. He complained about fair-weather friends and swore at perceived rivals in his own party. "Tell the guys, goddamn it, to get off their ass and start fighting back," Nixon pleaded with Ford in one call recorded by the president's secret taping system.

And Ford did. "Anytime you want me to do anything, under any circumstances, you give me a call, Mr. President," he told Nixon during that May 1, 1973, conversation. "We'll stand by you morning, noon and night."...

"You've got a hell of a lot of friends up here," Ford told him, "both Republican and Democrat, and don't worry about anybody being sunshine soldiers or summer patriots."

"Well, never Jerry Ford," Nixon replied. "But if you could get a few congressmen and senators to speak up and say a word, for Christ's sakes."

Ford was played a copy of that tape in 2005. Although the existence of Nixon's secret taping system had been publicly disclosed in 1973, no such tapes of Ford had come to public attention, and the former president seemed stunned. "I remember vividly that," he said, recalling how Nixon often turned to him to get things done on the Hill. He added that he considered himself to be Nixon's "only real friend."
Woodward pushes forward the question whether Ford really was chosen as VP simply because he was objectively the best person for the job and whether Ford really did pardon Nixon for the stated reason of moving the country forward. These are dark and critical questions that Woodward is now free to raise. We're honoring the dead President this week, and that is fitting, but historical understanding is more important. What should we really think of President Ford?

19 comments:

Mortimer Brezny said...

Must pardons only be detached instances of charity? What is wrong with a mixed motive pardon, especially if its consequences are good for the nation?

Pogo said...

The years of relative calm that followed the pardon, compared to the serious waste of time incurred by the Clinton hearings (and the desire for retribution by impeaching Bush), are evidence that a trial of Nixon would have been far more damaging to the US than his crimes.

That is, we moved on. And it was better for us than an expensive endless legal proceeding to prove what we already knew.

bearbee said...

You are correct on the need for fact and historical accuracy but couldn't the Woodward article release date wait a few days until after interment?

Interesting comments surrounding Hale Boggs. I just saw the interview of Ford by Boggs' daughter Cokie Roberts. I wonder if she knew of those comments at the time of that interview.

amba said...

Who is ever chosen simply because they're the best person for the job? Especially by a paranoid type like Richard Nixon?

There were dark mutterings at the time of a prior deal for a pardon. Most likely, Nixon chose Ford because he trusted him and believed him loyal.

vw: cnlyst

bearbee said...

Of course you are correct for the need for fact and historical accuracy but couldn't the Woodward article release date wait a few more days until after interment?

Interesting comments surrounding Hale Boggs. I just saw the interview of Ford by Boggs' daughter Cokie Roberts. I wonder if she knew of those comments at the time of that interview.

Gahrie said...

Couldn't that glory-seeking asshole have at least had thr decency to wait until Pres. Ford was buried?

David said...

Any discussion of Nixon, Ford, and Watergate should be undertaken in the context of the anarchy that reigned on college campuses at the time. King was assassinated, two Kennedys were assassinated, Kent State/vs National Guard, a near total breakdown of authority on college campuses as offices were occupied, Black Panthers, etc., drugs, sex, and the false God of Rock and Roll.

I do not condone the actions of the "Plumbers" who clearly violated the law in pursuit of questionable ends. Nixon forgot that the means become an end in itself and paid the price.

We are still suffering the effects of those days of infamy as we await the elders of the hippies and yippies to slip noisily into senile dementia and alzheimers.
Interesting that these counterculture types moved from sitting on the floor of the University presidential office to the actual chair. History will not be kind to their tenure.

Meade said...

Gahrie is right -- Ford did the decent thing on a number of levels; Woodward, on none.

Anonymous said...

Tapes shmapes, wasn't Chevy Chase the equivalent of Ken Burns as a documentarian of the Ford presidency?

J said...

"Couldn't that glory-seeking asshole have at least had thr decency to wait until Pres. Ford was buried"

to start with his "revelations" about things some dead politician told him - and nobody else, including their closest friends and family - about how they really agreed with Woodward's view of things, despite whatever they may have said/wrote/done while alive?

Alan said...

Nixon still had loyalist even in his darkest days. I remember my father taking us out to Andrews to show our support and wave goodbye to the guy who brought the prisoners home.

Cedarford said...

Gahrie said...
Couldn't that glory-seeking asshole have at least had thr decency to wait until Pres. Ford was buried?


Frankly, Gahrie, Ford's dead.

He doesn't care.

The whole "not speaking ill of the dead until they are buried" convention is a little hard to observe when we establish long, visible ceremonial events honoring "great leaders" and discussing their accomplishments.

And that discussion can be done honestly, without being "classless and petty".

I do think the Nixon-Ford relationship is a matter of only modest importance to historians. Whatever it was, the correctness of the Pardon is now accepted by nearly all except the hard-core Lefties still alive from that era as the right thing to do.

And I do believe it was absolutely correct to reveal that Ford had great reservations about Bush's Iraq invasion and the Neocon idea of America running all over the world and shedding blood and spending 100s of billions to "democratize" reluctant peoples. That definitely should not have waited "for the mourning and the family's grief" to be put 1st. Not when half the senior leadership of the nation has been in or out of Crawford trying to present advice to Team Bush on what to do about Iraq, and soliciting input of former Administrations. Bush and Clinton were consulted, Carter offered his unsolicited opinion.

It is important for others in senior Republican leadership now in Crawford or going there, many who got their start in Ford's Administration, to get Ford's view...And for the people to know.

For disclosing Ford's views on Iraq and the Neocons in a critical time, I take the other position than Gahrie and give Woodward credit for passing on important information that should not have been witheld until AFTER the Team Bush decisions in Iraq strategy and who else should expect "liberating" by GIs in the near future is made.

Cedarford said...

Alan, my Dad was a Nixon loyalist, too. His reasons came from his China service, belief that Nixon was more right than the press&media that was out to hang him ever since he helped "persecute" Hiss and their Hollywood relatives.

Richard Dolan said...

Ann says: "Woodward pushes forward the question whether Ford really was chosen as VP simply because he was objectively the best person for the job and whether Ford really did pardon Nixon for the stated reason of moving the country forward. These are dark and critical questions that Woodward is now free to raise."

It's odd that, in (re-)considering very public acts by very public actors, Ann deems the nuances of motivation to be the "dark and critical questions." Dark they undoubtedly are, in the sense that there will never be much light that anyone can shed on them. If one is inclined to doubt the actors' public statements at the time, why should one be more inclined to credit whatever the same players may say decades later, when they are well into old age with all the tricks that aging (to say nothing of a cagey interviewer) can play on memory? Thus people can speculate and construct whatever story suits their fancy. A perfect set-up for a blog-storm.

But I don't see any sense in which those questions could be deemed "critical". Nothing turned on such fine distinctions among possible motivating factors then, and certainly nothing turns on any of that now. So how "critical"? And the question whether Ford was "objectively the best person for the job" is unanswerable, indeed, nonsensical. We've never been able to agree "objectively" on the criteria that would make the "best" president or vice president. If we could, then a philosopher-king would be far preferable. Because we can't, we hold elections instead. That Ford was "elected" by a nomination-confirmation process rather than a popular ballot doesn't change the fact that the "electors" in Ford's case could never have agreed on any such "objective" criteria any more than the voters at large.

Here as elsewhere Ann reveals the mentality of a poet rather than an historian. She wants to get at the truth about these individuals, to see into their souls. Good luck. But little that Woodward produces in terms of interviews is likely to be helpful in that endeavor.

miked0268 said...

First of all, several congressmen from the era attest that they insisted on Ford as a replacement vice president when discussing the matter with Nixon upon Spiro Agnew's resignation. Secondly, as these tapes demonstrate, Nixon and Ford had a very positive personal relationship. In light of these two facts it seems pretty unlikely that there was a "pardon deal" for Ford to be selected as vice president. At least it is clear that such a deal would have been superfluous.

I can certainly understand that people were outraged by the pardon at the time, but in the long run there is widespread consensus that this was the best thing to do for the country.

I think future historians will regard Ford as an obscure and not particularly influential president who nevertheless is revealed as very competent and admirable upon closer examination of his record; sort of the Chester Arthur of the 20th century.

Anonymous said...

These are dark and critical questions that Woodward is now free to raise.

Come again? These are questions that have been raised time and again for more than 30 years. And Woodward has certainly done his fair share of raising them over, and over, and over, so there is no "now free" about it.

Nothing stopped Woodward while Ford was alive, except fear of libel, perhaps. Maybe that's it - Woodward is "now free" to libel the dead. I say, go for it, Bob. Thirty years of digging has produced a vast mountain of no evidence, but don't let that stop you.

If you choose the Rather route, though, Bob, be sure to locate an IBM Selectric manufactured in the '70's.

The man isn't even buried yet and the vultures, professional Nixon-haters, and conpiracy-whakos are busy picking at the corpse.

What a load of horse shit.

hdhouse said...

Nixon was doing things far worse than the plumbers so please don't minimize it. There were a lot of NON hippie citizens who didn't do drugs, did do the free love game, didn't occupy university offices, who WERE offended deeply by what was revealed in the hearings and frankly would not have been crushed if Nixon had been drawn and quartered.

BUT we forgave Ford for what he did and even though the country was very ready to believe that there was a deal (and that was Nixon's fault directly because after what came out of his Imperial Presidency was deal after deal after deal). Everyone calmed down and we owe that to Ford.

Nixon did a lot of good. History has rewarded him as much as he deserves for China and a lot of lesser things that meant a great deal to ordinary people. Ford is much the same. The relationship might be just that they both had some good points and one, Nixon, had more bad than we can count.

At least Ford made a decision - we didn't like it at the time but history proved him correct.

hdhouse said...

ohhhh and least I forget, Woodward probably should crawl back under some rock. The entire episode of the Ford tape is a poor choice, poorly managed, poorly considered and helpful to no one.

Cedarford said...

Besides the Pardon being the best thing for the nation, as time passes, we do see what Nixon did right grow in importance and what he did wrong becoming less "obvious".

What he did right was a long impressive list of moderate, even left of center programs that rival the depth of LBJs. EEO, sweeping environmental and wilderness protection laws. The volunteer military was Nixon's idea. Detente, with admission later by the Soviets that Nixon had done a masterful job neutralizing them globally and in the ME. Ending Vietnam while keeping the balance of nations intact. The tremendous medical initiatives Nixon pushed to start. And much more. Historians are beginning to argue on who, next to FDR, was the most consequential President of the 20th Century, with Nixon and LBJ neck and neck.

What he did wrong seems smaller now..His ethics were denounced by the same strident people, starting with Hillary, that later strongly defended Clinton's perjury and obstruction of justice. His wage and price controls are thought to be a disaster - but something he and Democrats both wanted. We know have seen more of the ugly, agenda ridden side of the MSM revealed since the Internet has revealed their inner workings. The MSM persecution of Nixon for 25 years because he persecuted Hiss and a large number of Jews as Communists under "McCartyism" is looking very thin these days now that we know Nixon was right, and the Left wrong on the large number of Soviet agents in place that Nixon helped root out.

Time will tell. Nixon & Eisenhower are rising, Carter & JFK receeding in historian's eyes. And the Pardon is considered one of Ford's greatest moments.