Ford and the Lost Notion of Civility

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I didn't know Gerald Ford. I didn't cover him, but I was an aspiring journalist when Ford did the unthinkable on Sept. 8, 1974: He pardoned Richard Nixon. At the time, like many of us–and most, it seems, of the American public–I thought it was a terrible idea. No man should be above the law, and all of that. Nixon needed to get his due. And who knew whether there really was a deal: the presidency in return for a pardon. The decision left the country scratching its head. And it also probably cost Ford his presidency.

Now, so many years later, I find myself an unabashed admirer of Ford. I envy all of those journalists who covered his White House, a place in which the president seemed not to fear the press but actually liked reporters and respected the important work they do. Even more important, I wish the tone Ford set for the country could become a reality again–a tone that calls for real unity, that allows members of both parties to seek compromise, that places an emphasis on getting things done rather than getting re-elected.

It's what the public said it wanted in the past midterm election. But I'm not holding my breath. It's just that Ford's funeral and its eulogies make me really long for the old-time practice of politics as we knew it. Back in Ford's day, it was an honorable sport, not a blood sport. I suppose we get the politics we ask for–and we've clearly asked to return to the more civil days. That's civil days, not civil war.