Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Ford the Healer: Partisan in life, partisan in death?

"I'm not a crook": one of Nixon's more famous sayings.

It was a lie, of course. But we're talking about Richard Nixon here. Lying came as natural as breathing to the guy.

Healer-in-Chief Gerald Ford gave him a pre-emptory pardon anyway. The US Postal Service doesn't put someone on a stamp until they are deceased. So I want be surprised to see a stamp of Healer Ford come out later this year with a slogan like, "Healer-in-Chief Ford who heroically pardoned Richard Nixon (who wasn't a crook)".

One reason the ceremonies surrounding the death of a former President are so elaborate is that in the United States, the President is both head of state as well as head of government. Britain and Spain have kings and queens to be head of state, Austria and Germany have Presidents. The head of government is a prime minister. But since the President is head of state (warning: foolish old-fashioned comment coming), I suppose it is somewhat appropriate that his memory be treated somewhat reverentially.

Silly me. The kind of media dysfunction we see on display in the Ford funeral extravaganza is one of many examples of how our "press corps" has virtually collapsed, at least in terms of performing the vital service of a free press in a democracy. Watch closely when Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton pass away. The pundits will treat them just as reverently, too. [Long pause due to choking and gagging induced by hysterical laughter.]

Republican hack David Brooks, whose commentary I once thought was kind of substantial - I'm willing to admit my mistakes, though in this case I can't explain how I ever came to that conclusion - said on the PBS Newshour Tuesday (Former President Ford Laid to Rest 01/02/07):

And the pardon, which is now universally celebrated, the idea that he could move the country beyond partisanship, that is clearly what a lot of people want. Whether we're going to get there, I'm not sure.

Yeah, "universally celebrated". Except for, uh, all of us who think it was a rotten idea.

Then Brooks went on in the next breath to pimp the Republican Party line of the death, which is those naughty, unruly, uncivil Democrats should be bipartisan, because just like Dear Leader Bush says, the voters said in the 2006 elected that they wanted more bipartisanship. Except for, well, the 75% or so of the public who think we do something to get the hell out of Iraq. And the solid majorities who want things like preservaing Social Security that the Republican Party is dead set against. Other than that, sure, a yearning for more of that sacred bipartisanship was important enough to rank, what, #35 or so on the list of the voters' priorities.

Brooks' regular debating partner is Mark Shields, who I still praise on occasion. I mean, Shields is an honest-to-God liberal. Or at the very least he knows what a liberal is. But he was in Establishment mode tonight, both on that segment and another about incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (at this writing, I can only get the audio, Upcoming Congress 01/02/07). He was moaning and groaning about the loss of civility, and making sad puppy-dog eyes reminiscing about the good ole days when there was bipartisan cooperation and yadda, yadda. But he did do a better job discussing Pelosi than Brooks, although that may sound like "damning with faint praise".

Check out those two segments. Although I confess I couldn't sit still to watch all of the second one, it was such a series of sad spasms of horse-poo, snivel-to-the-Party-line commentary I just couldn't get through two whole segments of it at one sitting. And this is public television! Sensible, sophisticated PBS!

I will agree with Shields that that the news feature on Pelosi was well done (Pelosi Set to Become First Female House Speaker 01/02/07.

But Brooks merged the memory of Ford smoothly into the Party line that, golly gee, happens to be the same demand for "bipartisanship" without any serious challenge from Shields. And check out this little bit of pandering to the Christian Right "culture warriors" from Brooks:

This [1976] is eight years after Woodstock. This is after Janis Joplin. This is after Jimi Hendrix. This is about the time of John Travolta and "Saturday Night Fever."

You have to hear the Ford conversation to believe it. It includes an utterly forgettable campaign song from Ford's 1976 campaign with the following deep lyrics:

There's a change that's come over America,
a change that's great to see.
We're going back to work again.
It's better than it used to be.

I'm feeling good about America,
and I feel it everywhere I go.
I'm feeling good about Gerald Ford,
and I'm feeling good about me.

I'm feeling good about Gerald Ford,
and I'm feeling good about me.

How Bruce Springsteen ever competed with talent like that, I will never know.

This is followed by Brooks and Shields gushing over how the hokey campaign song symbolizes the political brilliance for Ford's 1976 campaign. That would be the brilliant campaign that he, uh, lost. The Daily Howler is dead right: if we didn't have a press corps like this, you couldn't invent them.

I mean, these are two of the leading pundits in the country. Genu-ine Big Pundits. And they sat there babbling maniacally about "bipartisanship". Did they sleep through the last five years? Are they not aware that Dick Cheney and George Bush are still in office? Did they take a magic pill that just erased the last five years from their memory? Are they imagine that Cheney and Bush have just transmogrified into cooperative saints? The Unilateral Executive, the torture scandal, the faked evidence about Iraqi WMDs, the total rejection by Cheney and Bush of the Baker Iraq report, Halliburton, Katrina reconstruction corruption, the administration's hardline partisan stances since the election - did a leprechaun just pluck all that out of their skulls for the Tuesday show?

Reality check: the only way the coming two years will be a period of anything other than intense partisanship is if the Democrats roll over and play dead - which we know they are entirely capable of doing. But I don't think they will (Joe Lieberman excepted, of course). Watching Shields and Brooks do their clown show Tuesday made me feel kind of like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, convulsing wildly on the bed and yelling, "Make it stop! Make it stop!"

Our Dear Leader found Ford's Presidency to contain foreshadowings of Our Leader's own Churchillian courage and bold historical vision in his tribute to Healer-in-Chief Ford:

President Ford assumed office at a terrible time in our nation's history. At home, America was divided by political turmoil and wracked by inflation. In Southeast Asia, Saigon fell just nine months into his presidency. Amid all the turmoil, Gerald Ford was a rock of stability. And when he put his hand on his family Bible to take the presidential oath of office, he brought grace to a moment of great doubt.

In a short time, the gentleman from Grand Rapids proved that behind the affability was firm resolve. When a U.S. ship called the Mayaguez was seized by Cambodia, President Ford made the tough decision to send in the Marines - and all the crew members were rescued. He was criticized for signing the Helsinki Accords, yet history has shown that document helped bring down the Soviet Union, as courageous men and women behind the Iron Curtain used it to demand their God-given liberties. Twice assassins attempted to take the life of this good and decent man, yet he refused to curtail his public appearances. And when he thought that the nation needed to put Watergate behind us, he made the tough and decent decision to pardon President Nixon, even though that decision probably cost him the presidential election. (my emphasis)

Someday, historians chronicling the Weimar Republic phase of American democracy will draw a bright red line from Watergate through Ford's pardon to the Iran-Contra affair to the Abu Ghuraib and the other soiled baggage of the Bush administration.

But all this maudlin nonsense about Ford the Healer and how everyone thought Nixon should be forgiven and the lovely dream of bipartisanship if the Democrats would just kindly pretend like the November election never happened ... Make it stop! Make it stop!

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