Postscript to Nixon

Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon; drawing by David Levine

September 9, 1974. This morning we heard on the radio that President Ford had pardoned ex-President Nixon for any offenses he might have committed while in office “against the United States.” Immediately afterward came the announcement that Ford’s press secretary and long-time friend J. F. terHorst had quit in protest. So Nixon is home safe at last. Though he may still be liable to prosecution for civil or state offenses, he will never have to answer for anything—were it high treason or forging Treasury bonds—he did during his incumbency in violation of federal statutes. Whatever his crimes, those imputed to him during the impeachment proceedings or others (who knows?) undiscovered and not yet even suspected, he is free for life from federal pursuit. And it looks as if his six associates or accomplices—the men under indictment whose trial was slated for September 30—are home safe too.

The argument most frequently heard against any kind of pardon for him, when that curious possibility began to be discussed, was the unfairness this would work on Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, and company, of whom it could not be claimed, evidently, that they had “suffered enough”—as Ford declared of Nixon—in losing the highest office in the land. But now the force of this logic, originally brought to bear in the insistence that none of the guilty should be immune from punishment, can be seen to turn around suddenly and plead on their behalf. The injustice of their “paying the price,” when the boss has not only been absolved but is drawing large sums from the taxpayers in the form of a pension and travel and office expenses, is bound to be visible to a nation of arguers schooled in points of equity. Should these men be actually tried and condemned, one can expect a furor reminiscent of the Calley case, with them in the piteous role of “scapegoats,” “little fellows,” who were only carrying out orders issued by their commander-in-chief.

On the other hand, if they are not tried, the net effect of Ford’s action yesterday will have been a general absolution for all Watergate criminals still at large, which will be bound to seem unfair to those like Kalmbach, Segretti, McCord, Hunt, Liddy, and the Cubans, who have already been punished by doing time in jail. To restore impartiality, those still behind bars would have to be let out, by proclamation, and some handsome form of compensation—along the lines of Nixon’s severance pay—devised to reimburse them for the time they have served. Magruder, who is reported to be studying theology in prison, will have to close his scriptures and partake in the general amnesty. And what about Nixon’s nemesis, John Dean, who had just started serving his one-to-four-year term when Nixon got his absolution? Ford could reason, I suppose, that Dean alone deserves no compassion and should stay where he is till he too has…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.