Thursday, December 28, 2006

Maintaining the public trust

I have no particularly strong animus against Gerald Ford, and I hadn’t intended to comment on his death one way or the other. But I ran into something that deserves comment.

I just finished reading this morning’s Chicago Tribune’s editorial pages. Most of the letters to the editor and the lead editorial were about the late Gerald Ford. The tone was universally worshipful- he was benevolent, he was wise, he was a compromising moderate who united people. In particular, his decision to pardon Nixon was praised as a great act of statesmanship, a way to restore American trust in government by avoiding the spectacle of a former president being put on trial. That jumped out at me. It is interesting that these people, who consider faith in government and the presidency a good thing, implicitly recognize and acknowledge the fact that to maintain the people’s all-important trust in government it is necessary to distract them from criminal acts committed by their leaders. Letting Nixon go to trial for his crimes like some commoner would have encouraged the public to think about the fact that the state’s highest official had broken the state’s own laws, and we can’t have that!

I doubt they think of it in precisely those terms- few people are that Machiavellian. But it remains the underlying principle of their argument.

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