- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 27, 2006

“Our long national nightmare is over,” Gerald Ford told the nation on assuming the presidency. And soon it was. For that the nation owes a large debt to the sacrifice of Gerald Ford.

The honest and forthright Mr. Ford, who died at his California home Tuesday evening at the age of 93, did what had to be done, even at the sacrifice of his presidency. In retrospect, his controversial and reviled pardon for Richard Nixon was clearly the right thing to do. He spared the country years of uncertainty, put Watergate to rest, returned the nation’s eye to the future and restored tradition, honor and dignity to the nation’s highest office.

To hear Mr. Ford explain it, there was never a question in his mind about what he had to do, which he explained in the logic and language of everyman. This was the mark of the man. He reasoned that Richard Nixon was only one American among many millions, and he owed the larger responsibility to the many millions who deserved to have the national nightmare put to rest. The nation had to move on.

“I paid a price, sure, but it is a price a president has to pay when he thinks he is doing the right thing, whatever the polls show,” he told columnist David Broder in 1994. “The first month I was in office, I spent 25 percent of my time talking to lawyers about what to do about the Nixon tapes, the Nixon papers. Ninety percent of the questions at my first press conference were about Nixon. I thought I had to get the Nixon questions off my desk.

“I had a helluva lot more important business. The Russians and our allies didn’t know what we were going to do. We had a serious recession starting. So I came to the conclusion, wholly on my own, that I ought to spend all my time on the business of 230 million Americans, and not 25 percent on one man.”

This was a simple explanation, mathematical in its reasoning, and for that reason it was all the more compelling. Many Americans have changed their minds since about the pardon. In an ABC News poll taken in 2002 on the 30th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, 6 in 10 Americans said the pardon was the right thing to do.

Some argue still that the pardon deprived the nation of a “full telling” or the nation of an opportunity to “fully heal.” This is nonsense. Most every significant detail of the Watergate break-in and cover-up has come to light without a drawn-out ordeal for a disgraced president, which would have amounted to a show trial.

“The American people will always admire Gerald Ford’s devotion to duty, his personal character and the honorable conduct of his administration,” Mr. Bush said when he learned Tuesday night that Mr. Ford had left us. How true.

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