The Pardoning President
By Paul Bacon

Often characterized as a bumbling figurehead, Gerald Ford was nonetheless instrumental in healing the most bitterly divided America since the Civil War. Because of his squeaky-clean reputation in Washington, Ford was initially tapped by Richard Nixon to take over for Vice President Spiro Agnew, who faced prosecution for accepting bribes. Soon after, Nixon himself was tripped up by evidence of his involvement in the Watergate scandal and resigned from the presidency.

Fearing Nixon's looming criminal trial would prolong the nation's suffering, Ford quickly pardoned the former president. A firestorm of criticism followed, to which Ford responded that Nixon's profound humiliation was punishment enough. And, since Nixon had extended conscription during the ultimately fruitless Vietnam War, Ford appeased his opponents by granting amnesty to draft dodgers and deserters.

While Ford's conciliatory style offered a welcome reprieve from the previous administration, his inability to handle a severe economic recession proved his popular undoing. He would never be elected in his own right, but in his two-and-half-year term, he had accomplished what seemed impossible at the time: restoring public confidence in national leaders. He remains a respected elder in U.S. politics, and former First Lady Betty Ford continues in her own healing mission through her support of a renowned clinic.


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