Sunday, December 31, 2006

Year-end Euphemismania

Your mission, should you choose to accept it (I probably won't), is to watch this week's Ford-related ceremonies and count the number of times the nattering network nabobs use the word heal or one of its cognates. I watched much of the Return to Washington last night and am already quite sick of this euphemism. The Voice of America is representative (emphases mine):
Gerald Ford was not considered a great orator, but his first words as president in August, 1974, set a tone of healing and reassurance for a nation anxious to move beyond Watergate and the political demise of Richard Nixon.

"My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over," said President Ford. "Our Constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here, the people rule."

In the wake of his death, politicians from both political parties are recalling Gerald Ford's basic decency and the important change in tone he brought to the White House when he succeeded Richard Nixon.

President Bush was among those recalling Mr. Ford's contribution to national reconciliation in the wake of Mr. Nixon's resignation. "For a nation that needed healing, and for an office that needed a calm and steady hand, Gerald Ford came along when we needed him most," he said.

You knew that professional Republican fluffer George Will would get in on the act:
In 1976 Ford might have won a full term if he had been less statesmanlike: His pardon of Richard Nixon unquestionably hurt him politically, but unquestionably helped with national healing.
To be fair, this euphemism has been incubating for a while. Here is Ford with Diane Sawyer back in 2001:
Sawyer: We've talked about the fact that you believed it was right, you felt that the Nixon situation was profoundly distracting to the country, you had to get it back on course. Nonetheless, when an aide walks in to you and says, "Mr. President, your popularity has just gone from 71 percent to 49 percent in a few days," were you shaken? Did you have any doubt?

Ford: I knew that it would be unpopular. It was more unpopular than I expected, but that did not change my mind. I felt then, as I feel today, the pardon of President Nixon was absolutely essential.

It was part of the healing process of the times in Washington and the country. We had gone through the Watergate tragedy. We had had the war in Vietnam. The country was torn apart. And it was absolutely essential that we step forward to try, in any way possible, to heal the—these wounds, so to speak. And so I granted the pardon because it was right then. And I'm pleased and honored that the Kennedy Library and Caroline and others in the family now agree with me.

Mind you, Ford's 1979 autobiography was titled A Time to Heal, so we can assume that this euphemism has his imprimatur. Hmm. This one seems to be a kind of metaphor. A metaphor involves a comparison between two things: here, Ford's pardoning of Nixon for his various misdeeds is being compared to an act of healing. Hmm. What sorts of things do we normally seek to heal? While I have no objection to the Nixon Administration being compared to such things—indeed, I have often envisioned it as an ulcerous, suppurating pustule myself—is this really the association that ex-President Ford and the various power-sucking pundits want to make? I mean, it may be true that even the most itchy, crusty, pustulous scab will eventually heal if you leave it alone, as Ford let Nixon go free to enjoy a comfortable retirement, but many diseases only get worse if they are not treated—and as for wounds, well, healing them is one thing; punishing the people who unjustly inflicted them is another. Judging from the comments above, Ford seems to have thought of his pardon as a "healing" of wounds. But what wounds? Whose wounds? President Ford himself seemed somewhat confused about that. Before today, I had never actually looked at Ford's pardon proclamation. Behold:
As a result of certain acts or omissions occurring before his resignation from the Office of President, Richard Nixon has become liable to possible indictment and trial for offenses against the United States. Whether or not he shall be so prosecuted depends on findings of the appropriate grand jury and on the discretion of the authorized prosecutor. Should an indictment ensue, the accused shall then be entitled to a fair trial by an impartial jury, as guaranteed to every individual by the Constitution.

It is believed that a trial of Richard Nixon, if it became necessary, could not fairly begin until a year or more has elapsed. In the meantime, the tranquility to which this nation has been restored by the events of recent weeks could be irreparably lost by the prospects of bringing to trial a former President of the United States. The prospects of such trial will cause prolonged and divisive debate over the propriety of exposing to further punishment and degradation a man who has already paid the unprecedented penalty of relinquishing the highest elective office of the United States.

Oh! He's paid "the unprecedented penalty" of quitting his job! A trial will involve the horrors of debate! The tranquility will be lost! Oh, won't someone please think of the tranquility?

Let's refresh our memory as to just what Richard Milhous Nixon stood accused of. Until today, I had also never actually read the Articles of Impeachment against him. Here is Article 1:

In his conduct of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his consitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice, in that:

On June 17, 1972, and prior thereto, agents of the Committee for the Re-election of the President committed unlawful entry of the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington, District of Columbia, for the purpose of securing political intelligence. Subsequent thereto, Richard M. Nixon, using the powers of his high office, engaged personally and through his close subordinates and agents, in a course of conduct or plan designed to delay, impede, and obstruct the investigation of such illegal entry; to cover up, conceal and protect those responsible; and to conceal the existence and scope of other unlawful covert activities.

The means used to implement this course of conduct or plan included one or more of the following:

  1. making false or misleading statements to lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States;
  2. withholding relevant and material evidence or information from lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States;
  3. approving, condoning, acquiescing in, and counselling witnesses with respect to the giving of false or misleading statements to lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States and false or misleading testimony in duly instituted judicial and congressional proceedings;
  4. interfering or endeavouring to interfere with the conduct of investigations by the Department of Justice of the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the office of Watergate Special Prosecution Force, and Congressional Committees;
  5. approving, condoning, and acquiescing in, the surreptitious payment of substantial sums of money for the purpose of obtaining the silence or influencing the testimony of witnesses, potential witnesses or individuals who participated in such unlawful entry and other illegal activities;
  6. endeavouring to misuse the Central Intelligence Agency, an agency of the United States;
  7. disseminating information received from officers of the Department of Justice of the United States to subjects of investigations conducted by lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States, for the purpose of aiding and assisting such subjects in their attempts to avoid criminal liability;
  8. making or causing to be made false or misleading public statements for the purpose of deceiving the people of the United States into believing that a thorough and complete investigation had been conducted with respect to allegations of misconduct on the part of personnel of the executive branch of the United States and personnel of the Committee for the Re-election of the President, and that there was no involvement of such personnel in such misconduct: or
  9. endeavouring to cause prospective defendants, and individuals duly tried and convicted, to expect favoured treatment and consideration in return for their silence or false testimony, or rewarding individuals for their silence or false testimony.
In all of this, Richard M. Nixon has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.

Wherefore Richard M. Nixon, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office.

Here is Article 2:
Using the powers of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in disregard of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has repeatedly engaged in conduct violating the constitutional rights of citizens, impairing the due and proper administration of justice and the conduct of lawful inquiries, or contravening the laws governing agencies of the executive branch and the purposed of these agencies.

This conduct has included one or more of the following:

  1. He has, acting personally and through his subordinates and agents, endeavoured to obtain from the Internal Revenue Service, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, confidential information contained in income tax returns for purposed not authorized by law, and to cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigations to be intitiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner.
  2. He misused the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Secret Service, and other executive personnel, in violation or disregard of the constitutional rights of citizens, by directing or authorizing such agencies or personnel to conduct or continue electronic surveillance or other investigations for purposes unrelated to national security, the enforcement of laws, or any other lawful function of his office; he did direct, authorize, or permit the use of information obtained thereby for purposes unrelated to national security, the enforcement of laws, or any other lawful function of his office; and he did direct the concealment of certain records made by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of electronic surveillance.
  3. He has, acting personally and through his subordinates and agents, in violation or disregard of the constitutional rights of citizens, authorized and permitted to be maintained a secret investigative unit within the office of the President, financed in part with money derived from campaign contributions, which unlawfully utilized the resources of the Central Intelligence Agency, engaged in covert and unlawful activities, and attempted to prejudice the constitutional right of an accused to a fair trial.
  4. He has failed to take care that the laws were faithfully executed by failing to act when he knew or had reason to know that his close subordinates endeavoured to impede and frustrate lawful inquiries by duly constituted executive, judicial and legislative entities concerning the unlawful entry into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, and the cover-up thereof, and concerning other unlawful activities including those relating to the confirmation of Richard Kleindienst as Attorney General of the United States, the electronic surveillance of private citizens, the break-in into the offices of Dr. Lewis Fielding, and the campaign financing practices of the Committee to Re-elect the President.
  5. In disregard of the rule of law, he knowingly misused the executive power by interfering with agencies of the executive branch, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Criminal Division, and the Office of Watergate Special Prosecution Force, of the Department of Justice, and the Central Intelligence Agency, in violation of his duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.
In all of this, Richard M. Nixon has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.

Wherefore Richard M. Nixon, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office.

And here is Article 3:
In his conduct of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, contrary to his oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has failed without lawful cause or excuse to produce papers and things as directed by duly authorized subpoenas issued by the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives on April 11, 1974, May 15, 1974, May 30, 1974, and June 24, 1974, and willfully disobeyed such subpoenas. The subpoenaed papers and things were deemed necessary by the Committee in order to resolve by direct evidence fundamental, factual questions relating to Presidential direction, knowledge or approval of actions demonstrated by other evidence to be substantial grounds for impeachment of the President. In refusing to produce these papers and things Richard M. Nixon, substituting his judgment as to what materials were necessary for the inquiry, interposed the powers of the Presidency against the the lawful subpoenas of the House of Representatives, thereby assuming to himself functions and judgments necessary to the exercise of the sole power of impeachment vested by the Constitution in the House of Representatives.

In all of this, Richard M. Nixon has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice, and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.

Wherefore, Richard M. Nixon, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office.

Behold this great litany of misdeeds, and then ask yourself: What exactly is healing about letting a man who does such things escape justice? It's healing, I suppose, in somewhat the same way that it's healing for a rape victim to refuse to press charges against a rapist: it spares the victim the agony of public exposure, the ordeal of a drawn-out trial, the threat of possible reprisal. I understand how that's "healing" of a kind. But it still lets a rapist go free.

No. I cannot buy in to this healing bullshit. President Ford may have prattled about how ours is "a government of laws and not of men," but his actions in pardoning Nixon suggest exactly the opposite—and that the entire mainstream media seems determined to pretend otherwise this week does no credit to the nation. As far as I am concerned, there is a direct line between Nixon's unhandcuffed departure from the White House and the mess we are in today, beset as we are with a president who violates laws, thumbs his nose at Congress and the Constitution, exploits national tragedies, starts wars on false pretenses—but then, hey, he's had Ford Administration alumni as his right-hand men. Perhaps Jonathan Tasini is engaging in wishful thinking when he speculates that we wouldn't be in the same mess today if Gerald Ford had let Congress whack Richard Nixon with a rolled-up Constitution and rub his nose in the mess he'd made of the national trust; we'll never know. I barely remember the Nixon days—one of my earliest memories, in fact, is of my parents, proud New Deal Democrats, applauding with delight and repeatedly using the word crook as he gave his resignation speech—but I do remember the lesson I took away from the fact that, despite all the ways in which Nixon had abused his powers in the highest office in the land, he had gotten off scot free. Nowadays, I think I'd phrase it like this: Morality is for the little people. Or like this: IOKIYAR. I took away a valuable lesson in the facts of hypocrisy. I learned that, however much politicians may prattle about virtues and values and principles and moral absolutes, few of them are really willing to live by such things when doing so becomes inconvenient. In fact, I have to backhandedly thank Gerald Ford for teaching us such a valuable early lesson in duplicity; for some of us, I'm sure it came in handy during the next 2-3 decades, when virtuous talk and vicious action became de rigeur for so many on the Right. For those paying attention, Ford helped spur a healthy skepticism about politicians and a newfound appreciation for the dismaying gap between what they say and what they do. Alas that this is not what he means by healing.

So, I beseech you: If you have the stomach for it, watch the Ford coverage this week and count the number of times you hear words like heal or healing or healed. If it helps, you could turn it into a drinking game:

"You know, Katie, President Ford healed the nation after Watergate and Vietnam."
*GLUG*
"Well, Ford's administration sought to heal the nation, George."
*SLURP*
"Ford will be remembered for helping to heal our national wounds."
*SWILL*
etc.
Take a shot every time you hear heal*, and my guess is you'll be unconscious within an hour. That, or the chemical alteration might produce an escalating counterfactual comprehension of how exactly you go from "By pardoning Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford let a criminal subverter of the Constitution escape justice" to "By pardoning Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford made the big national boo-boo all better," perhaps in a manner analogous to "The Four Stages of Tequila" I remember seeing on a t-shirt:
  1. I'm good-looking.
  2. I'm bulletproof.
  3. I'm invisible.
  4. I'm a great healer for pardoning a criminal president who broke laws, subverted the Constitution, and violated the trust of the American people, even though by doing so I've made it even harder for Americans to ever trust their government again.
Do it if you dare. I really don't mean to speak ill of the dead here, and I happily acknowledge that there are many good things for which to honor President Ford: his distinguished military service, his reputation for moderation and bipartisanship, his constructive post-presidency. I myself wholeheartedly believe that we'd be in much better shape if there were more Republicans like him around today. Far more. I'm just prematurely fed up with this sick euphemism for what was really a betrayal of justice—and with how it's being dutifully blathered by the always-well-scripted chattering classes. Honestly: Can't we honor the man without pretending that his pardon of Nixon was some great act of benevolence to us all as opposed to what it really was—an undeserved act of benevolence toward Nixon?

Anyway. I wish y'all a safe New Year's Eve and a Happy New Year. I'll be back tomorrow with some Happy New Year Random Flickr Blogging.


Comments:
Congrats on the C&L link. Nixon was far more hated by the public in 1975 than Bush is today. As your post indicates, if there were a liberal blogosphere in 1975, we all would have exploded with rage at the pardon. Ford sacrificed his presidency to do it. If he didn't know he was doing so, he didn't have very good pollsters. I do think he did what he thought was right, but whether for the nation or for his party, primarily, is only known to him. It did help the Republican party get Watergate behind it far faster than otherwise. Congrats again. Good writing.
 
The Constitution specifically limits presidential pardons "except in cases of impeachment", so Ford's pardon was illegal and without legal force.

We now know that Felt was 'Deep Throat', and everything he leaked to Woodward and Bernstein came from FBI files he had in hand. Which means the FBI was spying on the White House and knew all these crimes were being committed. Why did the FBI under Ford never prosecute anyone?

A time of healing? Hell, the scars still hurt.
 
Just put 'im in the ground already! *glug* *glug *glug*

[passes out]
 
If it still fit me, all this past week I'd have been wearing the T-shirt I've had for years that says "I don't care if he's dead, I still want to IMPEACH NIXON!"
 
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