One of the most common themes we are now asked to accept, as part of the hagiography surrounding the death of Gerald Ford, is that Ford ended our "long national nightmare" by pardoning Richard Nixon over his crimes in "Watergate" and that such an act remains a positive part of his legacy. In the debate over whether the pardon should have been granted, the focus has typically been on the dynamic at the time and what would be gained by putting the disgraced president and the nation through a criminal proceeding. Here's another way of seeing it: by pardoning Nixon, Ford actually prolonged our national nightmare and, along with others, paved our nation's march forward that has culminated in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in the Iraq War. We can only heal our nation now with the impeachment and trial of the current president and vice president.
Richard Nixon broke the law. Each of the three Articles of Impeachment approved by the House Judiciary Committee in July 1974, ended with this sentence: "In all of this, Richard M. Nixon has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States."
Contrary to his trust as President. Subversive of constitutional government. Great prejudice to the cause of law and justice. Manifest injury to the people of the United States.
Not to mention illegal conduct of the war in Cambodia. One of the two articles of impeachment that was rejected by the House Judiciary Committee was Article V that charged Nixon with violating his oath as Commander in Chief when he "authorized, ordered, and ratified the concealment from the Congress of false and misleading statements concerning the existence, scope and nature of American bombing operations in Cambodia in derogation of the power of the Congress to declare war, to make appropriations and to raise and support armies, and by such conduct warrants impeachment and trial and removal from office."
Doesn't this all sound familiar?
Nixon escaped trial and conviction by resigning from office. But, Ford's pardon, then, left Nixon unaccountable for the crimes he committed against the people of our country, and the conduct of an illegal war against the people of Cambodia. I would venture to guess that an actual trial in a court outside the Congress would have spread broadly beyond the approved Articles of Impeachment and incorporated the illegal war that Nixon (and his sidekick in crime, Henry Kissinger) conducted without the consent of the peoples' elected representatives.
We needed a trial of Richard Nixon so that the people could clearly see the abuse of power. We needed a trial because the people needed to witness, in excruciating detail, the abuse of power that went far beyond a political break-in and cover-up. Nixon's abuse of power reverberated around the globe, particularly in illustrating how our country too often treats nations who don't particularly agree with our national global aims or do not want to heel to our "strategic" interests. The trial and conviction of Nixon in a court of law might have made quite clear to the nation how our country's leader behave in the name of the people and also sent a message to the world that our democracy means something because we hold lawbreakers accountable, no matter who they are. Gerald Ford may have been a regular guy. He may have been a really nice guy. I can't tell you that because I never met him. But, respecting the personal grief felt by his family at his passing, we shouldn't obscure the truth that he did damage to the rule of law--damage that we are still paying for.
Which brings us to our current situation. I think it is a fair argument to make that had Nixon been convicted and served a prison term--as he should have--the Iraq war might never have happened--and hundreds of thousands of people would not have died, we would not have squandered as much as $2 trillion on an insane war and we would not have opened up a huge rift in our relations around the world. Is it not likely and plausible that, with the precedent of a Nixon conviction and imprisonment very much branded in the consciousness of our elected leaders, the current president and vice president (particularly the latter who worked in the Ford presidency) might have paused for a moment, in their improper, fallacious and illegal pursuit of an immoral war and the evisceration of our civil liberties, to ponder whether they were committing acts that might land them in jail? Given the individuals, I'll concede that perhaps nothing would have deterred them from committing impeachable offenses, that in the words of the House, were "subversive of constitutional government," caused "great prejudice to the cause of law and justice" and brought "manifest injury to the people of the United States."
We can undo some of the damage that the Nixon pardon caused. And that task must be taken up by the incoming Democratic majority. Incoming Speaker Pelosi and incoming Majority Leader Reid, if you continue to refuse to hold the current Administration accountable, as set forth in our Constitution, for the breaking of our laws and the violation of their sworn oaths, you will only be prolonging our national nightmare for years and possible generations to come. Future presidents will not hesitate to repeat the behavior of the Nixon and Bush Administrations because they will see our track record--our unwillingness to hold our elected leaders accountable for laws they violate. Based on lies that they will cloak in their own justification and without the proper Constitutional authority, future presidents will embark on wars that will kill countless more young men and women.