Was at a family gathering, and talked a bit about Nixon. My father said, quoting him inexactly, that "as angry as I was then, Ford's pardon of Nixon was probably the right thing to do."
Oh, you couldn't frame a more perfect scene of generations at loggerheads -- politely, of course. I think my dad might have expected me to call him a sellout to the man, but I already called him a flag-burning hippy a few days earlier for impugning the majestic Canadian Goose. (The only time the word "majestic" will be used for that rodent of the sky, btw.) Still: Dude, what happened to you? You used to be cool.
My argument is simple: Nixon paid no meaningful price for his actions, so nobody's behaviour changed. Republicans continued to be criminals -- see Iran-Contra, the multiple felons of the Reagan-Bush administrations, and the continuing abuses today. Democrats continue to have to pick up the mess, and get blamed for the outcomes.
My father countered with the Church Commission, and the layers of oversight added during the Carter administration. Call me cynical, but a six-year interregnum between the fall of one attempted tyrant (Nixon) and the rise of his constitution-shredding heir (Reagan) isn't exactly a golden age of peace and justice. Hell, the English managed to go 11 years without a King, and we've got monarchy imprinted in our genes.
At the risk of invoking Godwin's Law, let's ask ourselves why no German army has crossed the Rhine since 1945. Numerous reasons -- including 6 million Soviet soldiers on the wrong side of the Polish border! -- but surely one of the reasons that a Franco-German war is unthinkable today is because in Germany today, it is a crime punishable by imprisonment to deny Hitler's crimes. I'm not wild about those laws, but at it's root the law comes from society, and in this case society chose to silence lies. Consequently, two generations of Germans have been raised without being allowed a doubt of Nazi perfidy.
Pan right to the modern Republican Party, specifically Ford's pardon of Nixon. This is literally the antithesis of Germany's laws -- not only is it perfectly acceptable to argue that Nixon committed no crimes, by the conventions of modern writing, all we ever get to call Nixon is an alleged criminal. That his guilt is well-documented and a historical fact doesn't matter in modern debate. The Rush Limbaughs and Bill O'Reillys of today thrive on that ambiguity. Instead of being constrained by the bounds of taste, or in the German example the bounds of law, they argue that the White House that defiled the Constitution three times before a breakfast of tranquilizers and scotch was "patriotic" and "ambushed by the liberal media."
Was Ford's pardon of Nixon healing? Probably, in the same way a lobotomy is therapeutic. But it robbed Americans of their memory of how vile he was. Remembered accurately, Nixon would be recalled as the man who was so insane by 1974 his National Security Advisor told the military not to obey any of Nixon's orders without his concurrence. The rule of law in America was so imperiled it fell to men like Henry Kissinger to keep the President from bringing the US Army in to the streets of Washington during the Watergate endgame.
Finally, I'm highly skeptical of the argument that America couldn't withstand the stress of the criminal trial of an ex-President. The biggest piece of evidence here is the simple fact that Ford's pardon was probably the biggest hit in the polls and President has ever taken in the modern era -- Ford lost 20% in the polls, extremely rapidly. Without the pardon, Ford may very well have been re-elected. How can that possibly be squared with the idea that America is too fragile for accountability?
More than the law, more than the men (and occasional women) who hold office, what matters in politics is the stories that we tell ourselves. The Liberals will always have a hard time in Alberta because of the story - not the reality - of the NEP. The Southern US continues to live a lie about the Civil War, and American race relations continue to suffer because of it. Hell, look at our current situation: Because of the commonly-held stories about 9/11 (Hussein planned it!) Bush got away with murder for five years. There's always a certain amount of falsehoods to our histories, but an honest nation would try to get the big stuff factually correct.
Ford's pardon robbed America of even the chance of writing the proper ending to Nixon's story, and for that he earns his place beside the other Republican Presidents of the 20th century - where they weren't mediocre, they were positively evil.