Gerald R. Ford was a good man who served his country well in an evil time.
When he took office on Aug. 9, 1974, and declared, "Our long national nightmare is over," Ford did not fully appreciate that those who had done the most to create the nightmare were still here. The establishment that Nixon had humiliated in his 49-state landslide, having just effected a coup d'etat, had crawled back into power.
That establishment, which had hated Nixon since the Alger Hiss case and loathed Spiro Agnew for his wildly popular attacks on the liberal press, embraced "Jerry" Ford, and never more eagerly than when he elevated one of their own, Nelson Rockefeller, to the vice presidency.
August 1974 was the happy hour of American liberalism, when the press discovered that, amazingly, Jerry Ford actually toasted his own English muffins in his kitchen and buttered them himself, before heading off to the White House. How wonderful it all was.
The toasted-muffin phase of the Ford presidency ended abruptly on the Sunday morning that Ford issued a full pardon to Richard Nixon for any and all offenses committed during his presidency.
This city went berserk. Ford was savaged day after day in the press, night after night on the network news. His approval rating sank 40 points. The air was poisonous, with accusations of a "deal" by which Ford got the presidency in return for Nixon getting the pardon.
In an address to Congress on Aug. 12, Ford had said, "I don't want a honeymoon with you, I want a good, long marriage."
But a Congress that had been denied, by Nixon's resignation, the pleasure of impeaching, convicting and expelling him from the White House was in no mood for romance. Nor was this city, which had just been robbed of a delicious year-long public trial of the disgraced former president.
A House Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice directed Ford to appear on Capitol Hill to explain the circumstances of the pardon. Had anything fishy turned up, Congress would have tried to impeach Ford, so rancid was the atmosphere in this city.
Partly because of the pardon, the GOP suffered a loss of 48 House seats that November. In January 1975, a radical Congress was sworn in, determined to end all aid to our allies in Southeast Asia, bring about their defeat, then tear apart the CIA and FBI.
In April, Hanoi, with massive Soviet aid, launched an invasion of South Vietnam. Ford went to Congress to beg for assistance to our embattled Saigon allies. His request was rebuffed. Two Democrats walked out of the chamber.