Regardless of his motives, whether to heal the nation’s “wounds” in the wake of the Watergate scandal, a simple act of compassionate or acting on a suggestion by White House Chief of Staff General Alexander Haig, Gerald R. Ford’s pardon of Richard M. Nixon had far reaching and unintended consequences.
The sight of a former president having his day in court would have sent the clear signal to the American people that our Constitutional system of justice works. Instead, by issuing a pardon before any indictments were ever handed down in any jurisdiction for Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate scandal, Ford short-circuited our constitutional system, and effectively placed Nixon above the law.
Rather than binding wounds, the pardon sent the cynical message that there is, indeed, two systems of justice: One for the politically powerful and well connected and another for the rest of the American people.
This was a lesson not lost on Ronald Reagan, with his alleged non-involvement in the so-called Iran-Contra scandal. Moreover the opera buffa of Bill Clinton, presided over by the late Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the late William Rehnquist in a robe inspired by a character out of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operetta The Mikado, made the threat of presidential impeachment laughable.
Now we find ourselves with no powerful Constitutional remedy for a willful president who has led this nation into a ruinous and senseless occupation of a country that could really never do us any harm.