Thursday, December 28, 2006

August 9, 1974

President Gerald Ford passed away on December 26, 2006 at the age of 93.

He was President of the United States from August 1974 until January of 1977. Perhaps the most memorable part of his presidency was the day he took office. That day will be seared in my memory forever. I was 16 years old at the time. Here are my memories of that day, and those times:

It was August 9, 1974. It was the summer before my Jr. year of High School. It had just been a little over two years (June 17, 1972) since the Watergate break-in. On this day, the first resignation of a President of the United States would take place.

I was a very politically aware teenager. I tried to stay well informed. I had subscribed to Newsweek starting in about 1971. I still have my prized collection of Watergate related Newsweek magazines. I also read a lot of newspapers, and watched and listened to a lot of news on TV and radio.

On that August day, I was spending the Summer helping my Grandfather with his ranch (where I spent all of my summers as I was growing up.) At the time, my Grandfather was the County Chairman of the Republican Party. I remember that we supported Nixon for a long time, until the evidence against him became too overwhelming to ignore.

Normally on a Summer's day in August, we would be out in the hay fields, baling hay at that time of day. (Noon Eastern Time -- 10:00 AM our time). However, we knew of the great historical moment that was about to take place. It was a sad occasion. We felt let down by President Nixon. We wanted to believe in his innocence until the bitter end.

We came in from the fields to watch President Ford’s Speech. What we heard from the newly sworn-in President Ford was reassuring:
"My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over."
The nightmare of Watergate had begun some two years previously with the Watergate break-in. In the Spring and Summer of 1973, the US Senate created a special "Select" committee to investigate the Watergate break-in, to see if members of the administration were invovled in any way. After months of hearings the single greatest finding of the committe was the discovery of the previously unknown White House taping system.

Up until this time, it was one man's word against another, regarding the facts of the case and the involvement of the president and administration officials. The tapes would be incontrovertible proof of the President's involvement, or lack thereof, in the Watergate break-in, and the subsequent cover-up.

What then ensued was a long series of court battles over whether or not the president would have to turn over the tapes. The president claimed “Executive Privilege”, while prosecutors insisted they had the right to subpoena the tapes as evidence in their investigation.

After more than a year of legal wrangling, On July 24, 1974, the US Supreme Court, voted 8-0 that the president must surrender the tapes – and denied the president's claim to executive privilege.

On July 27-30, 1974 the House Judiciary Committee voted largely upon party lines to Impeach the president on three articles of impeachment:
  • Obstructing the Watergate investigation
  • Misuse of power and violating his oath of office
  • Failure to comply with House subpoenas
Our own Utah Rep. Wayne Owens (D) sat on that committee during his freshman term of congress. He cast his vote to impeach the president. Incidentally, Hillary Clinton, (then Hillary Rodham) was a staff attorney for the House Judiciary committee at the time.

On August 5, 1974 transcripts of 3 taped conversations were released which implicated the president in criminal conduct. The tapes showed that Nixon had obstructed justice by ordering the FBI to stop its investigation of the break-in, and that he directed a cover-up.

After these revelations were made public, even Republican members of the House Judiciary committee said they would change their votes in favor of impeachment.

On August 8, 1974, President Nixon announced his resignation in an nationally televised address.

Then at noon on August 9, 1974 I watched Gerald R. Ford as he was sworn in as the 38th president of the United States.

President Ford went on to say:
"I believe that truth is the glue that holds government together, not only our Government but civilization itself."

I have always remembered that statement.

Truth is the glue that holds families together. If we honor our covenants and remain true to one another our families will be strong.

Truth is the glue that holds communities together. If we are honest, honorable, and obey the law, our communities will be strong.

Clusters of truthful, strong communities make for a strong government and a strong civilization.

On the other hand, lies and deceit cause us to lose faith and trust in one another. When lies and deceit emanate from our government officials, our faith and trust in government is destroyed.

It is arguable if full faith in our government has ever been fully restored since the Watergate Scandal. Now we view our government with more of an eye of skepticism.

As we remember President Ford, we appreciate his integrity and his candor. He helped bring honor, integrity, and decency to the Presidency once more.

Shortly after taking office, President Ford took a great political risk in pardoning Richard Nixon. He was roundly criticized and condemned for this action. Most political experts agree that "The Pardon" was the main reason he was defeated by Jimmy Carter in 1976. Now, looking back we can see that the pardon was the right thing to do. The government had come to a virtual standstill with the scandal and the impeachment hearings. The pardon helped to get the country, and the government to re-focus on the issues at hand, and to move forward. It was time to put Watergate behind us.

President Ford's other policy decisions are open to debate. We may not necessarily agree with everything he did during his 2 1/2 years as president. (Remember the WIN lapel buttons for "Whip Inflation Now!") But he helped to rescue a floundering nation that was caught in a great constitutional crisis. He brought healing and direction to us once more.

In his speech to the nation, on that fateful day, he made the following promise to the nation:
"I now solemnly reaffirm my promise I made to you last December 6: to uphold the Constitution, to do what is right as God gives me to see the right, and to do the very best I can f or America.

God helping me, I will not let you down."
He was a man of his word. He did not let us down. Thanks for your service to our nation in a time of great need.


s'mee said...

It is unfortunate that politicians are more human than diety. History has a way of pointing out what each accomplished-good and bad- with that 20/20 hindsite rather than we trying to filter it through an emotional present.

Nice post Dave.

Lisa M. said...

Dave- Great post.

I have goosebumps on my arms.

What a memory.

chronicler said...

Very nice write up David. I remember the days of history very well. My brother was a stsaunch Nixon supporter. At the time I thought he was crazy. As history is reviewed it is amazing what we put the man through however. If it were today, I don't believe, President Nixon would have ever resigned.

I have noticed the media coverage of his death and the commentary that results. They paint a fine picture, of a great man. Although, if my memory serves me correctly, at the time he took office, and the days of his presidency were filled with the same old denigration of character and misrepresentation of his actions. I wish I had a nickle for every time the press shared his inability to get up or down a flight of stairs without mishap. It was a horrible way to get laughs, but they did it. Now those same person hold him up with reverance.

We live just an hours drive from PD and the community there sincerely cares for the Fords. He had been well respected by them and their lives have been good.

Thank you for taking us down your memory lane. It was good to read your journal pieces on Pres Ford and the surrounding calamity of Watergate.

David B. said...

Thanks for your kind comments.

Although the recollections of my life at the time President Ford took office are from memory, I must confess that I didn't remember the fine details (dates etc.) without having to brush up on the facts of the case.

I will add some links to the post of where more information can be found on President Ford, and the events surrounding Watergate.

I still believe that we, as a nation, do not accord the office of the presidency with the kind of respect that we once did.

There was a time when we respected the position of the President, even when we did not agree necessarily with their policies or political positions.

Ever since Watergate, it seems as though its no holds barred when it comes to criticizing the president. Not only is there criticism of policies and positions, but there are personal attacks as well. (Calling the president a liar, likening him to Hitler, insulting his intelligence, calling him a monkey, and it goes on and on. )

It's probably indicative of the loss of civility in our society as well. Perhaps all of the protests, marches, sit-ins and general disrespect of authority of the 60's and 70's may have had an influence on the loss of civility as as the Watergate scandal.

Maren said...

Happy New Year David!! I hope that you have a wonderful, *healthy* year coming up.