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Why was Gerald Ford President?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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The past week saw the passing of Gerald R. Ford, 38th president of the United States. Personally, I'm too young to recall the Ford Administration, but the news media has effectively filled me in on all the pertinent events surrounding his presidency.

The most controversial act of his presidency was the unconditional pardon he granted Richard Nixon less than thirty days after taking the oath of office. In a televised broadcast to the nation, he characterized Watergate as an American tragedy which could go on and on and on if someone wouldn't write the end to it. "I have concluded," he said, "that only I can do that, and if I can, I must."

The act cost him dearly. He was assailed and castigated by friend and foe for pardoning an unpardonable crime. The media righteously raged at the shame of a criminal not paying for his crimes due to a backroom deal which was presumably brokered. Historians all agree that the unpopular pardon was the reason for President Carter's razor-thin victory over Ford in the 1976 presidential elections.

Years passed, and with the benefit of hindsight at their disposal, more and more people from both sides of the aisle began seeing the wisdom behind the pardon. To quote President Carter: "He wisely chose the path of healing during a deeply divisive time in our nation's history." In theory it is true that we must hold everyone accountable for their actions, no matter their prestigious position, but at times the greater good must take precedence. The nation didn't need the dragged-out spectacle of a president on trial and then incarcerated. Arriving at closure was more important than all other considerations.

In a democracy, the electorate controls their own destiny. Or do they?
This isn't merely a manifestation of the "eulogy phenomenon" which causes people to extol the virtues of recently deceased individuals; this shift in public opinion has been fermenting already for a while. A noted senator who at the time was a vocal critic of the pardon, dubbing it a "betrayal of the public trust," was quoted a few years ago saying, "Unlike many of us at the time, President Ford recognized that the nation had to move forward!"



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Mishnah
First written rendition of the Oral Law which G-d spoke to Moses. Rabbi Judah the Prince compiled the Mishna in the 2nd century lest the Oral law be forgotten due to the hardships of the Jewish exiles.