September 08, 2014

#Watergate: Jerry Ford proved his political ineptitude 40 years ago today

Lydon Johnson had a number of cracks about Gerald Ford, including that he had played football without a helmet too much.

Well, I am reminded of that today, as this is the 40th anniversary of Ford pardoning his predecessor, Richard Nixon, for crimes he may have committed in relation to Watergate. I'm old enough to remember the actual announcement, and the controversy, as well as both my parents somewhat believing, if not necessarily totally, that Nixon had done was no worse than anything of LBJ (possibly halfway true, on a state-level scale, with Landslide Lyndon of 1948 fame) or Jack Kennedy (probably not so true; both parties committed vote fraud in 1960). That said, neither JFK nor LBJ pulled an Anna Chennault out of their hats, and given that some aspects of Watergate are connected to what Tricky Dick thought LBJ knew, and had on the record, about his Logan Act violations in late October 1968, illegalities that would extend the Vietnam War by several years and kill an extra 20,000 US troops, no, mom and dad, Nixon was far worse.

That said, especially as an adult, with hindsight, I can't figure out why Jerry Ford couldn't at least wait two months until after the midterm elections were past. Even if (unlikely) Nixon was formally indicted before then, no legal proceedings would have started.

The GOP still would have taken a midterms bath, but maybe held 1 or 2 more Senate seats, and 5-7 House seats, than in reality.

And, how could he not think that the general public, and not just Democratic Party PR, would raise questions of Ford entering into a tradeoff with Nixon. Given that we know that resignation crossed Nixon's mind, if but briefly, before the resignation of Spiro Agnew as Veep — with Ford then of course replacing him — the question certainly wasn't illegitimate. In fact, in writing histories of Ford, of Nixon, and of Watergate today, it's still not illegitimate.

That said, this was one of a trifecta of gaffes that sank Ford's 1976 re-election chances.

The swiftness of the pardon kept alive rumors of such a bargain, which in turn helped fuel Jimmy Carter's "clean" campaign. Given the relatively closeness of the race, this magnified Carter's strengths and diminished his weaknesses in the Democratic primaries as well as the general election.

Then, there was Ford's famous "drop dead" to New York City in 1976. Combined with booting Rocky as his Veep, that guaranteed he'd lose New York State.

Add to that the claim that "there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe," in the second presidential debate, and East European "ethnics" in the Rust Belt loosened their allegiance. Ford added to that by stubbornly refusing to admit for several days that he had made a misstatement, offering up the traditional de jure US stance on Eastern European affairs instead of the de facto stance about reality on the ground.

Ford wound up losing Ohio and Pennsylvania as well as New York. Ohio was decided by one-third of one percentage point, and Pennsylvania by less than three percentage points. Ohio plus four other electoral votes (assuming the "faithless elector" from Washington State who voted for Reagan would have gone for Ford) would have given Ford the election. Given that Ford lost Wisconsin, which also has a lot of Eastern European "ethnics," by about 1.75 percentage points, there's the election right there.

Fortieth anniversaries of historic events usually have a few people alive from the original.

The Watergate 40th anniversary events take more life today, as only two principals remain alive.

John Dean, as I noted in my review of his new book, seems as much a liar as 40 years ago, and Gordon Liddy is, if anything, even more mentally unhinged today than then.

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