Some interesting observations from history teacher/blogger Betsy Newmark on the passing of President Gerald Ford reminded me just how differently things are often viewed through the lens of history.
Newmark wrote, “All those crediting Ford today for healing and bringing the nation together after Nixon's resignation are discounting the tremendous, burning anger there was in the country after the pardon. Democrats in Congress even held hearings to see if there had been some sort of a quid pro quo between Ford and Nixon. The goodwill that Ford had earned with his graceful ascension after Nixon almost immediately dissipated. Fortunately for Mr. Ford, he lived long enough to see the verdict of history come around to think that he probably made the right decision to spare the country months of seeing Nixon on trial. “
It is quite common that actions are viewed much differently decades later than they were by those during the times in which they occurred. Those Americans witnessing the passing of Ronald Reagan, who were not old enough to have personal memories of his presidency would have trouble reconciling the commentary by many at that time to the comments made when he died. Some of those who regarded Reagan as a warmonger, twenty years later lauded his optimism. Many of the same people who criticized Reagan during his presidency for referring to the Soviet Union as the “evil empire” and for taking a hard line against communism, later credited him (if reluctantly) for the role he played in the fall of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall.
Just as opinions of Reagan’s presidency changed in the short twenty years after he left office, Betsy Newmark notes the way memories have faded of the atmosphere present at the time of Ford’s presidency just over a quarter of a century ago. “The obituaries extolling Ford's ability to unify the country overlook the atmosphere at the time, especially the bitterness after the Nixon pardon. It was not a time of unity in Washington as the Congress overrode 12 of Ford's vetoes. Congress refused to send aid to South Vietnam as North Vietnam violated the Peace Accords and invaded the South forcing the U.S. to evacuate and finally abandon the South. Untold thousands in South Vietnam and Cambodia died as a result.”