Monday, June 2, 2008

Context: Libby a Campaign Issue? II

In a previous post (here), we noted presidential pardons are usually soon forgotten and, as a consequence, whether or not they were an "issue" in past presidential campaigns is likely to be forgotten as well. After citing some passages from the presidential debates, we then asked, rhetorically, whether or not the pardon power was an issue in the 1996 presidential campaign.

Given the pardon of Richard Nixon and the impact that critics and the media had on Ford's approval ratings, few would argue the pardon power was not an issue in the 1976 election. However, many may forget that clemency was actually being discussed on two fronts during that campaign. On September 23, 1976, candidates Ford and Carter met in their first debate and here is a passage:

MR. REYNOLDS: Mr. President, when you came into office you spoke very eloquently of the need for a time for healing, and very early in your administration you went out to Chicago and you announced, you proposed a program of uh case-by-case pardons for draft resisters to restore them to full citizenship. Some fourteen thousand young men took advantage of your offer, but another ninety thousand did not. In granting the pardon to former President Nixon, sir, part of your rationale was to put Watergate behind us to - if I may quote you again - truly end our long national nightmare. Why does not the same rationale apply now, today, in our Bicentennial year, to the young men who resisted in Vietnam, and many of them still in exile abroad?

MR. FORD: The amnesty program that I recommended in Chicago in September of 1974 would give to all draft evaders and - uh military deserters the opportunity to earn their uh - good record back. About fourteen to fifteen thousand did take advantage of that program. We gave them ample time. I am against- an across-the-board pardon of draft evaders or military deserters. Now in the case of Mr. Nixon, the reason the - the pardon was given, was that, when I took office this country was in a very, very divided condition. There was hatred, there was divisiveness - uh people had lost faith in their government in many, many respects. Mr. Nixon resigned, and I became president. It seemed to me that if I was to uh adequately and effectively handle the problems of high inflation, a growing recession, the uh - involvement of the United States still in Vietnam that I had to give a hundred percent of my time to those two major problems. Mr. Nixon resigned. That is disgrace. The first President out of thirty-eight that ever resigned from public office under pressure. So when you look at the penalty that he paid, and when you analyze the requirements that I had - to spend all of my time working on the economy, which was in trouble, that I inherited; working on our problems in Southeast Asia - which were still plaguing us - it seemed to me that Mr. Nixon had been penalized enough by his resignation in disgrace and the need, and necessity for me to concentrate on the problems of the country fully justified the action that I took.

MR. REYNOLDS: I take it then, sir, that you do not believe that uh - it is - that you are going to reconsider and uh - think about those ninety thousand who are still abroad. Uh - have they not been penalized enough - many of 'em been there for years?

MR. FORD: Well, Mr. Carter has uh indicated that uh - he would give a blanket pardon to all uh - draft evaders. I do not agree with that point of view. I gave, in September of 1974, an opportunity for all draft evaders, all deserters, to come in voluntarily, clear their records by earning an opportunity to restore their good citizenship. I think we gave them a good opportunity - we're - I don't think we should go any further.

MR. NEWMAN: Governor Carter.

MR. CARTER: Well I think it's uh... very difficult for President Ford to uh - explain the difference between the pardon of President Nixon and - and uh - his attitude toward those who violated the draft laws. As a matter of fact - now- I don't advocate amnesty; I advocate pardon. There's a difference in my opinion - uh and in accordance with the ruling of the Supreme Court and accordance with the definition in the dictionary. Amnesty means that - that you uh - that what you did was right. Pardon means that what you did, whether it's right or wrong, you're forgiven for it. And I do advocate a pardon for - for draft evaders. I think it's accurate to say that in uh - two years ago when Mr. Nixon - Mr. Ford put in this uh amnesty that three times as many deserters were uh - excused as were - as were the uh - the ones who evaded the draft. But I think that now is the time to heal our country after the Vietnam War and I think that what the people are concerned about is not the - uh pardon or the amnesty of uh - those who evaded the draft, but - but whether or not our crime system is - is fair. We've got a - a sharp distinction drawn between white collar crime - the - the - the big shots who are rich, who are influential uh very seldom go to jail; those who are poor and - and who have uh no influence - uh quite often are the ones who are punished. And - and the whole uh subject of crime is one that concerns our people very much, and I believe that the fairness of it is - is what - uh - is a - is a major problem that addresses our - our leader and this is something that hasn't been addressed adequately by - by this administration. But I - I hope to have a complete uh responsibility on my shoulders to help bring about a - a fair uh - criminal justice system and also to - to bring about uh - an end to the - to the divise- divisiveness that has occurred in our country uh as a result of the Vietnam War.

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