Ford’s par­don of Nixon helped heal the na­tion.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK -

One month af­ter Nixon re­signed, Pres­i­dent Ger­ald Ford par­doned him be­fore he could go to trial for any crimes he might have com­mit­ted while pres­i­dent. In 2001, Sen. Ted Kennedy thanked Ford for the par­don, say­ing, “His courage and ded­i­ca­tion to our coun­try made it pos­si­ble for us to be­gin the process of heal­ing and put the tragedy of Water­gate be­hind us.” Ford’s suc­ces­sor, Jimmy Carter, seemed to agree, say­ing in his 1977 in­au­gu­ral ad­dress, “For my­self and for our na­tion, I want to thank my pre­de­ces­sor for all he has done to heal our land.”

In fact, how­ever, the par­don ex­ac­er­bated the pub­lic’s dis­trust of gov­ern­ment by re­in­forc­ing Amer­i­cans’ sense that the pres­i­dent was above the law. It also cast a dam­ag­ing vote of no con­fi­dence by the ex­ec­u­tive in the co-equal ju­di­cial branch of gov­ern­ment. Af­ter the par­don, Ford’s fa­vor­a­bil­ity rat­ings plum­meted overnight, and he lost his 1976 bid for re­elec­tion. And, although Amer­i­cans have be­come more fa­vor­able to­ward the par­don over time, it did noth­ing to stop the down­ward trend in Amer­i­cans’ trust in gov­ern­ment ac­cel­er­ated by Water­gate.

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