Who's asking: Ashton LeBourgeois, Washington, DC
Gerald Ford packed an extraordinary amount of history into a term of fewer than 1,000 days. In the wake of Watergate, he navigated the country out of Vietnam, created an amnesty program for draft dodgers, laid the foundation for rescuing the nation from the worst economic slump in 40 years, appointed the first woman Cabinet Secretary since the 1940s, and maintained the uneasy balance of the Cold War even as we showed ourselves to be weaker than we'd claimed.
None of those things would have been possible if the nation had been focused on the trial and conviction of our former President. The rest of the world would have seen a nation humiliated and in chaos; our own citizens' heartsickness would have festered; and the worst partisan divides would have become irreparable. We'd have risked anarchy.
Knowing it would be an unpopular decision, Gerald Ford did what he thought was best for the country, and I think history has justified him.
In asking this question, Ashton said it was the "wrong decision for the right reasons," and argued that Richard Nixon should have been held accountable for his crimes, just to prove that we are a country of laws rather than men. It was fundamentally unfair, Ashton said, that Nixon escaped legal retribution.
It's hard to disagree with that, but Nixon's eventual conviction was no sure thing. Conspiracy is one of the hardest of all crimes to prove, and Nixon was careful. If the nation had endured a year-long trial that ended in acquittal, what would have happened then?
No, Gerald Ford made the right decision. I saw an article yesterday that quoted Henry Kissinger as saying that modern politicians want to be stars; Gerald Ford wanted to be a hero. In the end, he was.