God's Politics

“Our long national nightmare is over.” With the news of the passing of former President Gerald R. Ford, I can still hear those words.

More than thirty years later, it’s difficult to remember the chaos of 1973-74. A year after winning a landslide election over George McGovern, the Nixon administration was rapidly unraveling. By the fall of 1973, a number of top White House staffers had either resigned or been fired, the battles between Richard Nixon and the Watergate special prosecutor were raging, and a special Senate committee had held extensive hearings and was seeking the release of documents and White House tape recordings. On October 20, the battle came to a head when President Nixon fired the special prosecutor and abolished the office, leading to the resignations of both the attorney general and deputy attorney general. On a parallel track, only ten days earlier, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned after pleading no contest to charges of tax evasion. In December, Gerald Ford was confirmed as vice president. By the summer of 1974, a unanimous Supreme Court ruled that Nixon was required to turn over the tapes, the House Judiciary Committee passed three articles of impeachment, and within two weeks, Richard Nixon became the first president in U.S. history to resign. He was succeeded by Ford – who became the first president never elected as either president or vice-president.

The obituaries in this morning’s newspapers recount his short administration – the two events at the top of my memory are his highly controversial pardon of Nixon and his presiding over the final end of the U.S. war in Vietnam. And, I remember opposing his policies on a number of fronts in those years. But it is those memorable words from his speech after taking the presidential oath of office that are the most relevant today:

I believe that truth is the glue that holds government together, not only our Government but civilization itself. … In all my public and private acts as your President, I expect to follow my instincts of openness and candor with full confidence that honesty is always the best policy in the end. My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.

As we enter 2007, our country is mired in another seemingly endless war we were deceptively led into, we have a president in a state of denial, and we live in a deeply divided country. We need once again to hear those simple, direct words from a president – “truth is the glue that holds government together,” “honesty is always the best policy,” and “our long national nightmare is over.” They are the best legacy of Gerald R. Ford.

Duane Shank is senior policy adviser for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.

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