In the end, the pardon spared the country from public rancor, further tarnishing of the institution of the presidency and a decline in the voters' faith in their government likely to occur if a former president stood trial. Khachigian noted, "If there had been a prosecution, (Nixon critics) probably would have said he wasn't charged enough. Nothing ever satisfies them."
Besides, without a trial, Nixon paid for his misdeeds. He became the first president to resign, and to do so in disgrace. Thus history will remember him.
The same can be said of President Bill Clinton, whom the House impeached, but the Senate failed to convict. In both cases, the need to punish illegal behavior was sated -- if outside the criminal justice system -- then put aside in recognition of the need, as Ford put it when he pardoned Nixon, to "look forward to an agenda for the future, to unify, to bind up the nation's wounds."
Young people especially mocked the notion that a pardon would heal the nation. Khachigian recalled walking from the White House across Lafayette Park on the evening Nixon resigned; he saw thousands of college students and young adults cheering, laughing and gloating. I wasn't there, but I was cheering, too.
I was in sync with the Baby Boom generation that wanted to see more scandal exposed, more mighty men brought low and more comeuppance -- even if it meant more national wallowing in the mud. But the accidental president was right: The time had come for America to move forward.
Ford later told the Washington Post's Bob Woodward that the public reaction "didn't faze me one bit. If anything, it made me more stubborn (that) I was right." And he was right.
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