While the passing of any president is cause for a showing of respect, we must be careful that in praising the deceased we don't also rewrite history for political purposes. Unfortunately, that is what has been happening with the recent death of Gerald Ford.
The only U.S. president who was not elected by the people, Ford served as president for two years. Prior to that he was vice president for under a year, replacing the scandal-plagued Spiro Agnew. Prior to that, he was a Republican member of the House of Representatives from 1949 to 1973.
Since his death, Ford has been praised as a "healer" of the nation following the Watergate scandal. His pardoning of Richard Nixon has been the subject of debate for more than 32 years, but everyone from George W. Bush to conservative columnists to Jimmy Carter have credited Ford with "moving the country forward" from Watergate. Indeed, New York Times columnist David Brooks went so far as to say the pardon was "universally celebrated."
That's a discredit to history, and to reality. The principle objection to the Nixon pardon is that, in signing the order, Ford placed the president above the law. The nation strongly suspected that Nixon was guilty of crimes and with the stroke of his pen, Ford assured that the truth would never be known and that the president would not answer for whatever he did.
(Demostrating beyond any doubt that they are political animals first and foremost, the Republicans did not take Ford's lesson in "healing" to heart when they decided to impeach Bill Clinton. It's also worth noting for historical value that Clinton's misdeeds were of a personal nature, not a political or national nature, as Nixon's were.)
Ford's legacy also includes advancing the careers of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, both of whom served in his administration. Rumsfeld initially served as Ford's Chief of Staff, and later as his Secretary of Defense - a post he filled again from 2001-2006 for George W. Bush. Cheney succeeded Rumsfeld as Ford's Chief of Staff, and later ran his failed 1976 re-election campaign. Both Cheney and Rumsfeld are credited with instigating the current war in Iraq and shaping U.S. foreign policy to where it is today.
Ford was also a member of the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The Commission's findings have been widely discredited over the years, with a majority of people believing there was some sort of conspiracy in Kennedy's murder. Ford actually altered the first draft of the report to make Kennedy's fatal injuries sound more consistent with the single-bullet (and single shooter) theory the Commission was promoting. In altering the document, Ford elevated the location of Kennedy's wound from it's true location to support the single assassin theory. The Assassination Review Board released a document in 1997 that revealed Ford's actions.
During his eight years as Minority Leader in the House, Ford clashed with President Lyndon Johnson, particularly over his Great Soceity programs and the Vietnam War. In the 1964 presidential election, Ford supported Barry Goldwater, who advocated escalating the war in the face of widespread public opposition. Republicans are still battling the Great Society, with opposition to civl rights, health care and education still being waged.
Ford's biggest sin to history, however, remains his pardon of Nixon, for which he alone is responsible. In making the president above the law, Ford created an intangible - and unsubstantiated - doctrine of presidential power that presidents such as Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush have invoked to keep secrets from the public when it suits their political purposes.
But when you're willing to alter the findings of an assassination report, keeping secrets follows naturally.