As the presidency of Richard Nixon collapsed, one national parlor game centered on resignation and pardons.
Would President Nixon issue a pardon covering himself before resigning?
“Pardon me, I resign.”
Or would he resign and plead with the new President, Gerald Ford, to issue a pardon?
“I have resigned. I beg your pardon?”
Resignation seemed probable. The tapes were bad, then became worse. A smoking gun recording had the President of the United States conspiring with top aide H.R. Haldeman to stop the investigation. We hear Haldeman outlining the plan.
That the way to handle this now is for us to have Walters call Pat Gray and just say, “Stay the hell out of this…this is ah, business here we don’t want you to go any further on it.” That’s not an unusual development, and, uh, that would take care of it.
– H.R. Haldeman, Taped on June 23, 1972
It was clear obstruction of justice. President Nixon liked the idea of inventing a CIA story and using it to get the FBI to stop investigating. So he ordered Haldeman to carry out the plan.
I’m not going to get that closely involved… You call him. You got that?
It was as bad as it would get. In fact, it couldn’t have gotten worse.
Well, actually it could have. There were more tapes the public would never hear until decades later. There was the President casually voicing ethnic biases that went way beyond the common prejudices of the day.
Italians were different from us, our President said. They looked different, they talked different. They even smelled different. Biggest problem was, you couldn’t find an Italian who was honest.
Black people in America, as Richard Nixon saw it, were barely a step or two away from climbing down from the trees.
Jews were smart, according to the President. But they couldn’t be counted on for any loyalty. They would turn on you in an instant. And there were too many Jews in government.
President Nixon ordered his aides to survey all federal agencies. They were to make lists of all Jews working in government. A non-Jewish monitor would be assigned to keep track of all of them. As far as we know, the order was never carried out.
The Nixon bigotry did have the virtue of not involving lawbreaking. At least up to the part about tracking Jews. But there was lawbreaking. The smoking gun for Watergate involved a cover-up, not the original crime. But tapes that came out later had the President order other break-ins. In one tape he could be heard pounding the table, furious because his order to burglarize the Brookings Institution had not been carried out. “I want it done!” he yelled. “I want it done now.”
The generally accepted explanation of why President Nixon resigned when he did was that he did not want the humiliation of impeachment by the House, trial in the Senate, and eventual removal from office.
I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office.
– President Nixon, August 8, 1974
One bit of popular speculation had the President jump ship because impeachment would have cost him his Presidential pension. He wanted the money.
I sometimes wonder if the President hesitated at the public release of those other tapes, the ones smearing Italians and Jews and African Americans. His table pounding fury and his direct order of other crimes might have produced a popular revulsion that would end his hope for a pardon. He might have worried about life in prison.
President Ford is most remembered by those of my generation for two public statements. One was his famous assurance the night he was sworn in.
My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.
Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule.
– President Gerald Ford, August 9, 1974
The other is what tormented him for the rest of his brief presidency, and prevented his election for another term.
…a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed…
– President Gerald Ford, September 8, 1974
But some of us may remember the lengths he went to avoid any hint that he wanted to become President.
Q. If the Judiciary Committee votes out impeachment and this process is going, headed towards the Senate, do you feel that the president should step down and name you acting president during this period?
A. I don’t think so. I don’t believe that a president should remove himself from office until he’s convicted, which would be the trial in the Senate.
– President Ford, Meet the Press, February 3, 1974
Years later, after he had retired from politics, President Ford was explicit. He insisted he had refused even to give advice to President Nixon about resignation. When an aide to the President had asked him for input, he remembered his response.
I’ll have no part of any recommendation. I don’t want any of our conversation to give any advice or counsel to President Nixon. I’m going to stay out of it, absolutely.
– President Ford, with Merv Griffin, 1979
President Ford’s studious effort to avoid the slightest hint that he wanted to become President because of what he later called a national nightmare had to have come from a simple humanity common to most of us.
I was reminded of that transparent sense of decency soon after the terrible announcement came that John McCain had been stricken with an almost identical brain cancer that took the life of Edward Kennedy.
His opponent in the 2016 Republican primary lost and lost badly. But that did not stop Kelli Ward from offering some helpful advise to Senator McCain.
I hope Senator McCain is going to look long and hard at this, that his family and his advisers are going to look at this, and they’re going to advise him to step away as quickly as possible.
– Kelli Ward, July 20, 2017
That was one day after the cancer announcement. One day.
So, because of his medical diagnosis, Kelli Ward insists that John McCain should resign from the United States Senate. And she has a a helpful suggestion about the ideal person to take over from him right away.
I have a proven track record from years in the state Senate of being extremely effective and of listening to the voice of the people that I represent.
Yup. John McCain ought to resign. And Kelli Ward should take his place right now.
Human decency is not unique to Gerald Ford.
I remember the way Senator McCain, campaigning against Barack Obama in 2008, gently but firmly turned away from bigotry and smear. When anti-Arab, anti-Muslim bigots insisted that Barack Obama was both Arab and Muslim, candidate McCain would have none of it.
No ma’am no ma’am. He’s a decent family man, a citizen, that I just happened to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. And that’s what this campaign is all about. He’s not!
– John McCain, October 10, 2008
I have had occasion to wince at the occasional short tempered outbursts. Those my age often try to avoid the image of angry old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn. I try not to do that very often. Senator McCain’s public stands often strike me as unreasonable. He differs from folks like me on policy. I would not vote for him if presented with a reasonable opponent.
But I also feel that John McCain has earned the right to incidental invective common to those my age and older. A half century ago, he became a prisoner of war in Vietnam after being shot down as a pilot. He nearly died from his injuries. He was imprisoned in unbelievably harsh conditions for more than five years. He did not have to stay in captivity nearly that long. A year after he was shot down, his captors offered to release him as a propaganda ploy. He refused release until every prisoner who had been captured ahead of him had been let go. It took four additional years, but that finally happened.
Old-man outbursts and public stands do not tarnish a simple fact.
John McCain is a hero.
Here is another simple fact:
…to advise him to step away as quickly as possible…
…I have a proven track record…
Kelli Ward should be profoundly ashamed.
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