This column by Kays Gary was originally published by The Charlotte Observer, September 10, 1974. [Thirty-four years later, this proves to have been an astonishingly prophetic column, given what we have experienced with the Bush administration. May we yet be on the verge of political redemption, however. D. Alicen]
The honeymoon is over.
There was sweet pathos about it while it lasted. Bruised and hungry hearts picked up a stronger beat. The long, dry thirst for nourishment in the faith of our fathers seemed about to end.
The honeymoon is over and the faith of our fathers has turned to Monday dust.
This commentary is not my professional duty. Mine is to let the sunshine in, to play the flute so that cherubs sing at heathen fests. But this commentary I claim as a right after 28 years as a newsman, almost 54 as a citizen imbued from childhood with the idea that my country is the last best hope for consummating the second sentence of the Lord’s Prayer.
President Ford has granted, in advance, a full pardon to former President Nixon for any and all federal crimes he may have committed.
I am outraged and no riptide of “What about Chappaquidick?” will change that.
The man just pardoned faced evidence, rather than speculation, that cold sober he directed crimes against the Constitution, assaults against principles established as the bedrock of this country and compounded deceit against the people who gave him the most precious gift in their power. He is pardoned.
Who can declare, ever again, that in America every man stands equal before the law?
Who can, ever again, be shocked at the breakdown of law and order when its chief apostle has profaned its trust?
Who can, ever again, demand that punishment be swift and sure in the name of Justice?
What do we tell the Boy Scouts? The bright young faces in classrooms? Our youth errant in their defiance of our claimed morality?
What do we say to those guilty of crimes of momentary passion? To the deprived, sub-intellects who assault and rob, taking what they cannot earn? What do we say to those whom we have caged, segregated from contact with our pious persons?
Shall we say that the right to lie, to cheat, to steal belongs only to those whose mastery of deceit can first carry them to the highest places?
What shall we say to deserters whose only crime was fear? Or to thousands of young whose conscience told them “Thou shalt not kill” is a law stronger than that of Selective Service?
Recall it, now.
We cheered or added prayerful “Amens” when our President said that to grant amnesty to these would bring dishonor to those who fought so gallantly, some dying, in Vietnam.
Now a president, pardoned in advance for high crimes and misdemeanors, voices no such anguish for dishonor brought thus to the tombs of Washington, of Jefferson, of Lincoln.
He is in anguish, we are told. The act of mercy was extended to relieve it.
Yet that anguish has never penetrated the heart of a man to the extent of publicly acknowledging other than “mistakes.”
Richard Nixon has never and will never ask the American people’s forgiveness, and it is to be strongly suspected that in that twisted person writhes the suspicion that he does not need to. That in this, the ninth or 10th or 20th-whatever crisis of Richard Nixon, the seed of his justification may still be alive in the hearts of many.
If this be true it is time for the funeral of the great American experiment. It is time, indeed, for the benediction.
Certainly there are ambivalent feelings in the most partisan hearts about what the law should have done to Richard Nixon.
It is to no man’s credit to wish for him a sentence in jail as received by other mere mortals for lesser crimes.
Yet the pardoning seems to have done more than save him from jail. Instead, it places truth behind bars, buries it in a dungeon, stifles it to a point that rumor and distortion may yet bring a someday resurrection of the politics of pious infidels. That is the risk of it and the tragedy of it.
Though it is a documented matter of history more than 30 years after the fact there are those in Germany who consider the genocide of World War II a fairy tale. It is one way of burying guilt and keeping alive the promise that Hitler’s Germany may rise again.
President Ford, most likely would agree, acted in good conscience. Richard Nixon was a close friend. For more that 60 per cent of us, he was more than a friend. He was, if you please, a “return to honor and decency,” to “old fashioned values.” For that reason many find condemnation of Richard Nixon a condemnation of self and cannot, just as he cannot, bring themselves to do it.
But I must and for the record.
No matter what the Dow-Jones does today I can hear no cherubs sing.