What's that all about? The award derives from the title of the best seller by President John F. Kennedy. The book described acts of heroic political courage by dead politicians, among them the senator who voted not to convict impeached President Andrew Johnson, thereby saving him from political doom, and the republic from happier presidential prospects. Another was Robert Taft, who was honored for his courage in standing by certain reservations about the Nuremberg war-crimes procedures. The honoree on this occasion was, no less, Gerald Ford. And for what act of courage? For pardoning Richard Nixon.
The appearance by Senator Kennedy at the presentation was remarkable not only because he did what he did, but because of the Shrum-free rhetoric he used. Bob Shrum is the other James Carville in the fever swamps of Democratic rhetoric, an endless deposit of spite, hyperbole and odium, an ever-normal granary for Democrats who want to feast on the subject of Republican racism, fascism, hatred of the poor, and defense of the rich and powerful.
Senator Kennedy doesn't usually pass the doorman at night without a Shrumload in his quiver, but from all reports, at the Kennedy Library with President Ford at his side, Ted Kennedy was gracious and even repentant. He moved from the icy criticism of a pardon for Nixon in 1974 to acclaiming it as an act of courage and statesmanship in 2001.
Senator Kennedy said that Mr. Ford, by that pardon, had proved that "politics can be a noble profession." He then spoke truly noble words himself, because it cannot have been easy for him to say what he did. "I was one of those who spoke out against his action then. But time has a way of clarifying past events, and now we see that President Ford was right. His courage and dedication to our country made it possible for us to begin the process of healing and put the tragedy of Watergate behind us."