Articles

President Gerald R. Ford is Interviewed on the U.S. Constitution

October 4, 2019


I Richard Nixon do solemnly swear. I
Richard Nixon do solemnly swear. I Gerald R. Ford do solemnly swear. I Jimmy Carter do solemnly swear. I Ronald Reagan do solemnly swear. That I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and will to the best of my ability
preserve, protect, and defend the the Constitution of the United States. So
help me God. So help me God. So help me God. So help me God. We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union,
establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common
defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to
ourselves and our posterity. Do ordain and establish this Constitution for the
United States of America. The presidency is rooted in the Constitution, but its
modern dimensions created by political necessity were never imagined by the
founding fathers. Understanding the presidency is vitally important in the
success of this great democracy. That is what this program is about. I’m Warren Burger, Chairman of the
Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution. It is a rare
occasion in history to have four living former presidents. It has happened only
once before, when Abraham Lincoln took office. Our Commission decided to
interview our four former presidents, to record and preserve their views about
the office of the presidency and the interaction of the president with the
other branches of government, with the people, and with the media. Our
interviewer and narrator is the distinguished journalist, Hugh Sidey, who
began covering presidents during the administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Gerald Ford, the thirty eighth president, was a congressman from Michigan, whose highest aspiration was to be Speaker of the House. The accidental president he was
called. He was chosen to succeed Vice President
Spiro Agnew who had resigned, and Ford was elevated once more when President
Richard Nixon resigned. President Ford not only inherited the
job he had not sought, he inherited a nation which, at that time, and lost faith in its
government. The public today have no recollection,
certainly younger generations. You remember the mob scenes in Washington, D.C., Watts in Los Angeles, the terrible mob scenes in Detroit. Our country was pretty
well torn apart. Campuses were not a pleasant place for politicians. You know–
our college campuses were in an uproar. So, we didn’t solve all the problems
but we got people to talking to one another, and stop screeching, and
screaming, and yelling at one another. We– I think moderated the discussion of
issues pros and con. How did you change the presidency? We certainly restored
public confidence in the presidency. Whether people agreed with me or not– well I always had lots of opponents, but
I never had any enemies. Oh, I had more adversaries in the
Congress than I wanted. But I never had any enemies. And a president has to achieve that as
well. Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States. The presidency is a powerful office, but
the president is not a king. The Constitution limits his power and so
does politics. In the United States, the President does not always get what he
wants or accomplish all that he wants to do. The major problem in our government
today is the inability of one of the three co-equal coordinate branches to
perform its functions responsibly, and that’s the Congress. Congress, because of
the orgy of reform in the 1960s, where they were going to democratize the
Congress. They screwed up the capability of the Congress to run its business.
Today the Congress is not a fully operative successful participant in the
process of government, because they–they just have lost the capability to manage
their affairs. I think it was one of them your cabinet officers that told me once
he testified 57 times in the course of a few months up on the hill. I mean I can’t see how you could get his
work done. You’re exactly right. There are not too many basic committees.
I think under the legislation, the House and the Senate have 21 fundamental
committees. But the proliferation of subcommittees is unbelievable. I think we now have two hundred and some
subcommittees in the House and the Senate. And every time you have a
subcommittee, you have more staff. The fastest growing industry in the nation’s
capital in the last 10 years is congressional staffs. They multiplied. And
they’re all make work operations. And I think it adversely affects the
capability of the Congress to do its job. One estimate was they were almost 25,000
congressional staff people now. That’s correct [when counting everyone.] You’re almost too young to remember, but–
[thank you] the term before I went to the Congress–Congress had the reform
legislation. Prior to that time, they had I think 50 or 75 committees. In that
reorganization, they established the 21 basic committees in the house and the
Senate, and that was a major step forward, and was a way in which Congress was able
to get its business done. Do you realize, the first six years I was
in Congress, ’49 through ’55, we adjourned– finished all our business by July 4th. We had–we convened in early January and adjourned July 4th. We had all of business done. With all these darn staff people and these subcommittees, that’s a bunch of
make work down there. And the press love it of course because they got more
people to get leaks out of, and etc. The president has another tool to. The veto. I
was somewhat surprised when I went back you’re over your record. Sixty-six vetoes, of
which only a dozen were up–were overturned. [Why did you–what] the time I was in office I had the most vetos of any president certainly in this century. And
I did it because I had to convince the Congress that they’re irresponsible
spending policies who would not be approved by the White House. They finally
got the word. So it was effective? It was effective–it was effective. It took a lot of complaint. You know the
press kept saying when I veto, well that’s a negative attitude. It’s a negative attitude. That’s not
true. A president has the constitutional
responsibility and authority to veto. And if he doesn’t use that tool, he’s neglecting his presidential
responsibility. So–you know Congress passes a lot of bad legislation without
really thinking about it. And every once in a while a president has to say you made
a mistake. Now go back and think about it, and often when they think about it,
they change. Would you adopt or suggest either of the two constitutional
amendments that have–as you know, been kind of echoing back and forth. One is
requiring a balanced budget, secondly a line-item veto for the
president. Well let me take the first suggestion.
I’m opposed to a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget
for two reasons. First, most people who advocated it haven’t read it. The proposal says, Congress and the White
House should establish a statement for a balanced budget every year. What’s the impact of a statement of a
balanced budget? That’s how you achieve it. Now, the drafters of that amendment ran into a problem. If they make it too tight, then if you have a war or
depression where you need flexibility in the budget, that flexibility doesn’t
exist. So you don’t want to have a to tight. If you make it to lose, then what
do you? Do you provide loopholes, and you and I know, Congress is a master at
exploiting loopholes. So more practical point of view is– it won’t work. And the same is true as
far as the line-item veto. I would favor a line-item veto, but I don’t think
you’re going to get a constitutional amendment through the process. You know our founding fathers never really considered that we might end up with one
party in charge of the Congress and one party in-charge the presidency for such
a long time, and in our time as you know it seems almost gridlock now. I think the
major problem we have today is the inability of the Congress to carry out
its constitutional responsibilities promptly and effectively, and the House
is the weakest link. The House has lost a lot of its
stability, strength and character. Is now become an incumbent’s house not the
people’s house. Because ninety-eight percent of those who run for re-election are
re-elected. That’s not healthy. We need competitive congressional
districts. Now there’s one other problem. Politicians both Democrats and
Republicans, when they re-district like to go back in smoke-filled rooms, and I
did this three times when I was in the Congress. They make deals. They say you
get so many safe Democrat seats and in return for those safe Democrats seats,
will give you so many safe Republican seats. Well then that result of that is the
public gets screwed. You only end up with about a third of the seats that are
competitive. That’s wrong. All of the seats to the degree possible
ought to be competitive so that the public gets a chance to make changes. Now the second problem is perks. Incumbent member of Congress–the House–has 19 employees paid for by the public treasury. No challenger can hire 19
people to work for him–to compete. And the last thing is PACs, political action
committees. They strongly favor incumbents, and I would do away with political
actions committees because it’s become very abusive. Throw it open? I just eliminate political action
committees and make people contribute on their own, not through a corporate
organization. Not through a labor organization. If they want to give to a
candidate or to a party, they ought to do it directly. But how would you change the
terms? No, No, No. For Senators and Congressman? You’d leave those. There is quite a move on as you well know among certain people. I would vigorously oppose it. I hope it never happens. Our forefathers were very smart. President
four years, senator six, and member of the House two years. Would you limit though members of Congress? Let me answer the first question first. There’s a move to make a member of the
house four years rather than two years. Having gone through 13 campaigns, I love
to campaign, and I thought it was good for me and my constituents. Now, if you–if
you go from two to four years that helps the politician. He only asked the
campaign every four and every two years. But what does it do to the voters? It
cuts in half–in half their control over one branch of their government. I happen
to believe the House of Representatives is the people’s House, not the
politicians House. In your time you knew about the iron triangle–congressional
committees, lobbies, and then the bureaucracy. I gather you said we would say that’s
grown bad? That’s got worse. You get this iron triangle–they can
either promote legislation but more emphatically stop it. You have the
bureaucrats that like the jobs that relate to laws. You get lobbyists who get
paid to keep the laws, and you get the members of Congress who have control
over the operation of laws. You put those three together, there an a nefarious undesirable part of our system in the nation’s capital. Whether a president likes it or not, the
Congress has its own ways of dealing or not dealing with items on the national
agenda. Even in the best of times a President often feels frustrated by the
legislative branch of the government. All the more so in times of
international crisis. When the Congress and the president disagree on matters of
foreign policy. Such was the case with President Ford in the final days of the
Vietnam War. In January of 1973 there was an agreement between the North Vietnamese
and the United States government to end the war. The North Vietnamese were supposed to take their troops out we were going to withdraw our forces, which we did. Unfortunately, they did not. They kept
their forces in South Vietnam and by March of 1975, they were overwhelming the South
Vietnamese military forces. The big question was, could we supply the South
Vietnamese military with enough armament, etc., to keep the North Vietnamese from
taking over? I asked the Congress for the necessary money. Congress turned it down
and the net result was in April and May of 1975, the South Vietnamese were being kicked
all over by the North Vietnamese and Saigon was surrounded and eventually, as
you well know, we were totally thrown out of Vietnam. Was that a painful moment–those picture of the… Let me tell you, sitting in the Oval Office and watching live the
American civilian and military forces being kicked out of Vietnam was not a
pleasant experience for a President of the United States because all of our
military all of our civilian personnel plus great many South Vietnamese who had been helpful and loyal to us–we took a shellacking. That raises another point about the use of media around the world both benefits and disadvantages, seen wars on
the night news is tough. Does it create some problems for a president
that sort of broadcast? Well there’s no question. The aggressiveness of the media
particular the electronic media to compete with another network or another
group, to get a shot–the more gruesome the better. It has an impact on American
public opinion. In May 1975, a Cambodian naval vessel fired on the American
merchant ship, Mayaguez in the Gulf of Siam. The Mayaguez was forced into a
Cambodian port and the crew held hostage. President Ford, without consulting
Congress, order to rescue operation. US Marine stormed ashore. American
warplanes attacked targets in Cambodia and sank free Cambodian patrol boats.
Three helicopters were lost. Forty-one American servicemen were killed. With the
Mayaguez and its crew of 39 were set free. It was all over in less than a week. One
Monday morning they brought to you the story of the Mayaguez. Here’s the U.S.
merchant ship filled with paint–other non-lethal things, going from Hong Kong
to Thailand–boarded by the Cambodians, and you instantly took action. Why? The
United States had taken the licking on a worldwide basis because we obviously
lost the war in Vietnam. And there was no question in my mind that we had to take
a strong affirmative posture in order to reassure our allies, and at the same time
to tell our adversaries that we meant business. This was intuitive almost from
the start. Well that was my intuitive reaction. Yes. But it was–I distinctly
felt the right course of action for the United States in light of what had
happened in Saigon, in Vietnam, and elsewhere. We decided the proper military
course of action–to bring in some marines, to get some navy vessels, a
aircraft carrier on the scene, plus Air Force aircraft from the Philippines. So
in a relatively short period of time, the Defense Department reacted effectively
and very promptly. But now some people did at that time criticize you because
there were 41 deaths including that helicopter that crashed ferrying troops.
For 39 crewman, you got all the crewmen out alive. Some suggestion that maybe they
would have been released anyway. You never know whether they would have been
released. I happen to believe the Cambodians
released them because they knew we were
mobilizing military forces that if they didn’t release them we were going to
clobber them, and we would have. There’s another issue here that it comes through the Mayaguez affair also, the need for covert action–secrecy. The need to have an
apparatus–CIA–whatever that carries out secret missions. Has that diminished? There’s been a change in the atmosphere in that regard because Congress has gotten more and more involved in the day-to-day operations of our
intelligence organizations. When I was in the Congress in the fifties and sixties,
I was on a committee that handled the budget for the CIA. There were only seven of us, four
Democrats, three Republicans. And we were under the greatest pressure to keep
whatever actions the CIA did very very much off the record out of the press. And our
staff as I recall was limited to three. So there were seven members of the House. Three staff people and that was it. Today, you have a House Committee on
Intelligence– what are their probably close to 20–21.
The staff probably 10-15. You have a Senate Committee on Intelligence with a
staff. The net result is the CIA has to lay on the table to all of these people.
And the propensity of people–human nature being what it is–you have leaks
of very highly classified information. I don’t think that’s healthy. I don’t
think it’s in the national interest. You think we ought to have a covert
capability? Absolutely, we have to carry out certain critical
functions without there being a public record as to what’s being done. What about
leaks particularly in foreign policy? Well leaks are very frustrating to people who have a
responsibility. It’s a combination of people in the government–either in the
Executive Branch or the Congress, who want to curry favor with the press. And
the press on the other hand wanting to get a story. The National Security
Council which after the Mayaguez came to your attention, you called immediately.
Does that structure still function in today’s world? I think the basic
structure of the NSC is sound. You have to go back and read the
legislation when the CIA was first established. I think it was in 1947,
when we set up the Central Intelligence Agency. Congress passed the CIA
authorization bill. As a part of that they also established the NSC. The
feeling was that a president needed an independent think tank in the White
House so that when a recommendation came from the Defense Department, the State
Department, the Treasury, a president wasn’t captive of the bureaucracy in the
government. He had an independent group of thinkers who could take those
proposals from the different departments, analyze it, and give him an independent
judgment. That theory is still good, and I think it’s now operative. Mr. President,
you were somewhat criticized by some members of Congress because they said
you hadn’t use the War Powers Act correctly or you
could not consulted with them enough, that you simply told them what you’re
going to do. Now this is a very ticklish issue throughout your presidency and
later too, about how much authority should you have–should you take in times
like this? I probably should say at the outset before I answer your question;
when I was in the Congress, I voted against the War Powers Resolution. I
voted against the conference report, and devoted to sustain President Nixon’s
veto. So I never thought that the War Powers Resolution was good legislation.
Is it unconstitutional? Some say so. I believe so, as a matter of fact, there is
a recent Supreme Court decision, the so-called Chaddick case, which says that a
major provision of the War Powers Resolution is unconstitutional. It’s never been tested. The facts are
that–since the War Powers Resolution became law, I think there are 17
instances where you could argue that the War Powers Resolution is operative. I
denied it as being operative about five times, and I think today most thoughtful
members of Congress–Democrat or Republican, would agree that it ought to
be modified or repealed. But now you conferred with leaders though? Oh yes, the War Powers Resolution says
you should notify. You should confer, and you should do certain other things. We
went through the notification process. Any president would notify Congress. We
conferred–any president ought to confer with members of Congress. The problem is
what you do after that. While President Ford thinks the War Powers Act may be
unconstitutional, some experts believe president’s usurp the
constitutional power to declare war given only to Congress. Short of a
supreme court clarification, president’s define the Constitution by their very
actions. They may not be clearly constitutional, but for all practical
purposes, they are not unconstitutional. The Constitution gives a president
adequate authority. It is the action of members of Congress or the Congress as a whole that has an adverse impact. On the capability is a president, commander-in-chief to carry out his functions. You’re very familiar with what the
Congress did during the Vietnam War. After they pass the Tonkin Resolution,
which in effect gave President Johnson unlimited authority, then they kept backing off getting less and less enthusiastic. And finally over a
period of time, they kept in putting on appropriation bills, limitations which
said that no more than 90 days after this date can American forces be in Vietnam. Well
Congress has the right under the Constitution to limit expenditures.
Whether that right in a time of war is a proper utilization of that power is a
question, because if Congress says after a certain date you can’t have forces or
otherwise act, it gives to the enemy it gives to the enemy a added weapon. In
other words, Congress helps the enemy by that kind of action. Seldom is a
president’s role in foreign affairs more visible and when he goes to the summit.
Shortly after taking office in November of 1974, President Ford went to
Vladivostok to talk about strategic arms limitation. He held two days of face-to-face,
man-to-man negotiations with Leonid Brezhnev, the leader of the Soviet Union.
We had–I thought constructive negotiations. We narrowed the differences
between the United States and the Soviet Union, to two points. One, the backfire aircraft that the Russians were developing, and two surface-to-surface missiles. As I
remember you and Henry Kissinger were walking in the snow to discuss the–your
moves–in that chess game. It was the most unusual moment to brand new president it
was considerable worry by people. Well as you may remember, we held our
negotiations at a Soviet Navy rest and rehabilitation center that had been
close but they reopened for this particular summit. You assumed it was bugged. And we not only assume we knew it was bugged. So in order to discuss the
negotiations for the next day or the next meeting, Henry and I would not stay
in the residence where we were housed, but we went out in the snow and the cold
of Vladivostok in November, so we could talk without being bugged by the Soviet
Union. Most interesting sideline of that meeting, and I think it shows a different
character of Brezhnev. He was tough, he was typical Russian, he was hard-nosed.
But after we finished our luncheon that last day, he asked me if I wanted to go
into see Vladivostok because the Navy R&R facility was what–10, 12
miles outside of Vladivostok. I said surely. So we get into a
big Soviet black limousine. We’re driving around and on the way back I’m sitting
here, and Mr. Brezhnev there–he reaches over and grabs my left hand. I’m not accustomed to holding hands with
males and back seats and limousines. So I was a little surprised. And then he
started to talk. He said you know Mr. President, both you and I served in the
military. I was in my forces and we lost many millions of Russians in World War
II, and you in America lost–I don’t know, 700,000 to 800,000. He said, we have an
obligation to do something to prevent a Third World War. He said, I can commit to
you as long as I’m alive, we will not engage in a World War like our
predecessors did. And you felt he was sincere? I felt he was sincere. That was a totally
different personality from the one who sat across from me in the negotiating
table. It was a personal expression of his inward feeling. Now a lot of people
will discount that, but I happen to think it was an illustration. How much
responsibility does an American president now have for Americans abroad, with
literally hundreds of thousands of people–Americans–living abroad, doing
business, how can we protect them? Well, right from
the very beginning of our country there has been an acknowledged
responsibilities of an American government for the life, the safety of
Americans abroad. Now that’s a concept, and we’ve had a number of incidents
where American presidents have taken wrong action to recover Americans who
were held abroad against their will. On the other hand there comes a time when a
president has to balance the overall goal and objective of an American
foreign policy in a particular situation, with the lives and the safety of
Americans who have on their own decided to go abroad. When an American goes
abroad, he expects his government to give him protection. But he also has to
understand that there may be circumstances–maybe–where the
commander-in-chief has to balance the lives and safety of one or more
Americans with the overall goal and objective of American foreign policy.
Many Americans picture their president alone in the Oval Office burden by the
awesome concerns of the nation and the world, agonizing over a major decision.
But the lonely decision is reached with the assistance of a crowd of advisors, a
group President Ford inherited from President Nixon. The first cabinet
meeting I asked everybody to stay on temporarily. I thought we had to have
some continuity. One of the first that demanded attention and probably
change, Al Haig was the chief of staff for President Nixon. Al wanted to leave. He was worn out. He’d gone through Watergate, and he was just a–at wit’s end really with
all the pressures he’d gone through. And I felt I needed my own chief of staff. So
I quickly drafted Don Rumsfeld who was our representative that NATO, brought him
back and after about a month he took over from Al Haig. Then we gradually made other changes, but I didn’t feel it was wise just to throw them all out. We had to have continuity,
and on a one after one basis, we made changes. I didn’t want any people in my
cabinet who were just yes people. I wanted them to be knowledgeable, people
of integrity, people who would speak up with their own views, whether they agreed
with mine or agreed with their other cabinet member. And that’s what I finally
put together. I gradually made other changes so that I had people that I had
trust in, who not only were knowledgeable but articulate, and would speak up when
they had a viewpoint. Should vice president have more to do, Mr. President, to maybe relieve you from
some of that junk at the end and travel? Well you can’t write a prescription for a vice
president. I picked in my judgment of first-class one in Nelson Rockefeller. I gave him duties. I turned over to him
major responsibility for domestic programs. Every president makes his own
choice, assigns duties as he sees fit, because there’s nothing in the
Constitution that outlines the responsibilities of a vice-president. Do you feel that you should have that flexibility as president to assign a man
the way you would like? Yes I do, and every president every vice president has
to redefine–their only a very limited
number of duties a vice president has under the Constitution. One to preside
over the Senate, and number two, to succeed the president. Twice in one month,
President Ford’s life was threatened by would-be assassins. On September 5th,
1975, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, a member of Charles Manson’s murderous cult, pointed
a pistol at the president in Sacramento, California. Seventeen days later, in San
Francisco, Sara Jane Moore, fired a single shot at the president. She missed by
about five feet. Twice within a short period, people took
shots at you. how do you live with that? Well, you can’t do anything about it, and
I certainly was surprised when the Manson girl took a shot at me, or tried to
in Sacramento. And I was equally surprised when Sara Jane Moore tried to
do it in–or actually took a shot–in San Francisco. On the other hand, I had been a
bit prepared because I had been appointed by Lyndon Johnson to the
Warren Commission. And that Commission, as part of our trying to understand why Lee
Harvey Oswald took a shot an assassinated President Kennedy, had a study made–in
depth, of all the people who would either assassinated or attempted to assassinate
a President. And we found that with one exception, assassins were mentally faced
with some problem. These people are loners. These people are
odd balls. And there’s no way the secret service, for example, can keep track of
every oddball, every loner all over the United States. You cannot be forced to
isolate yourself in the White House just because there’s some not out there that
might try to shoot you. You have to understand that part of your
job is being a part of the people. You have to travel? You have to travel. You
have to be in crowds. And you have to assume that maybe some nut out there is
going to take a shot at you. Mr. President, there are as you know some
experts who say the media has become almost a branch of government now, it is
so pervasive, it defects the rhythm of the White House and the Congress
everyday. What you’re attitude on that? Well presidents have to learn to live
with the press whether it’s right or wrong. I happen to think the press today has an abnormal influence on the public and through that impact, the press
has an abnormal influence on the White House and the Congress. What ways could you be specific? Well, they develop opinions, they develop
prejudices of the public by the way they report the news. And the public then
responds, and members of Congress and the presidents respond to the public views.
A president is a public figure. A national celebrity. As such, he is the
inevitable target of the world’s comedians and cartoonist. No human foible goes unnoticed. There are some awful tough cartoons
about you, Mr. President. How did you take the criticism, how do you deal with that? Oh, I got used to it. Of course, the thing
that I really used to laugh about but I–I guess subjectively objected to, you know
every time I’d ski down one of these mountains and take a spill, that would be
the picture. Your night news then. Not that I could navigate the toughest
slopes or if I bump my head, some commentator would make some comment. Well you know you get immune I think after a period of time.
You let it roll off? Yeah, if you let those things bother you,
you’re getting your focus on the wrong thing. What qualities like boldness, courage,
intelligence, experience, patience compassion–is there one that stands out
that served you well in this time? I think it’s vitally important that a
president have a reputation as a person who is no question about his integrity,
no question about his knowledge of processes of government, no question
about his intellectual capability to analyze new problems that are inevitably
going to rise. The president has to have a reputation of judgment, because you get
differences–legitimate differences of opinion on any subject, any subject, and you have to expect the President to be able to analyze the pros and cons and come to
a responsible effective final ultimate decision. But if you could change one or
two things about the office what would they be? If you could just wave a wand and say, you know, let’s make it this way. Well, I wouldn’t go to a six-year
term. A four-year term if you get a good president, you can keep him in for
another four. If get a bad when you can throw the rascal out. Why subject
yourself to a six-year experience where you’ve got a bad one, and the public
occasionally makes a mistake. So four years, four years. And I would do away with the limitation on two four-year terms. Twenty-second Amendment, then we got to dropped that? The public ought
to have the right to make the choice, and basically over the years they’ve
made pretty good choices. Now, a… Does a president, you weren’t in that position,
but does a president lose power then knowing that he’s going to be out of
office at the end of this second term like Eisenhower or Reagan? No question. When you become a lame duck, you
don’t have the same power, same influence on the Congress, on programs and policies
that you do when your newly elected. That’s the way the game is. So, I would
keep the four-year term. I would do away with the two-year term limitation. I
wouldn’t basically change the Constitution. I think it’s worked pretty
well over 200 plus years. Be cautious about that? We’ve made a few
mistakes in how we run the government, but I don’t think it’s the problem of
the Constitution. I think it’s the problem of people. What was your greatest
disappointment? A president cannot turn a switch and overnight reduce unemployment, cutback inflation, reduce interest rates, solve a recession. The public has the
impression that a president can do something overnight automatically by
saying something or adopting a policy. The world in which we live doesn’t
operate that way. A president cannot expect instantaneous results. The
greatest disappointment to me was that the recession I inherited, I couldn’t
turn around the next week. We had to have a policy that was right, and then be
patient enough to wait for the good news. And we did, but
the meantime you catch a lot of hell, and you just have to sit there and… that
inability to solve something by what you say or what you do overnight is probably
the most greatest disappointment. Mr. President, certainly one of the most
difficult things you did and one that perhaps had the greatest political
political impact on you was pardoned Richard Nixon. Can you tell us a little
about that on how soon you decided that you had to do that. Well I became
president August 9, 1974, and as you well recall, I inherited some pretty
serious problems. We were in the process of losing the war in Vietnam. We were
faced with all the difficulties of Watergate. We were on the brink of a
serious recession that materialized–the worst in the post-world War II era. We
weren’t sure what the reaction would be by our adversaries–the Soviet Union. We
weren’t clear what our allies felt with a new government under these circumstances. So, I had a full platter of problems, and yet when I went to the–I think the first
or second press conference after becoming president, seventy-five percent
or more of the questions that came from the Washington press corps, “what was I
going to do about Mr. Nixon?” Was I going to pardon him? what would I do with the
tapes, etc? And as I walked back from that press conference which as I recall was
about the first of September, I said to myself, is this going to be repeated press conference after press conference
after press conference? About that time, I looked at my schedule, and I found that I
was spending twenty five percent of my time listening to lawyers from the
Department of Justice, and lawyers from my own White House staff telling me what
I should or shouldn’t do about Mr. Nixon’s papers, about his tapes. And I
thought, isn’t that bad allocation of my time as president? Shouldn’t I be
spending a hundred percent of my time on how to end the war in Vietnam, how to
take care of the problems of Watergate, how to handle the economy, how to deal
with our allies, how to deal with our adversaries. I should spend a hundred
percent of my time on those problems, not twenty-five percent of the my time in
the White House on the problems of one man. There weren’t any precedents though, were there? No, but I knew that I was not doing justice to the problems that involve 230
million Americans, because I was concentrating–not by choice, on the
problems of one man. And I said to my staff, find out how I can get rid of that
problem so I can totally devote my efforts to the problems of 230 million
Americans. You have to decide what you’re going to do in the basis of what you
think is right. The worst kind of a president would be
one who looked at polls every day and then decided what to do because public
opinion fluctuates from morning to night. You have to have a better understanding
and if you think you’re right, you have to sell
what you’re trying to do. A president has to understand people, and he has to
understand the process. That of course is easier said than done. But at the heart
of any successful presidency is conviction and the courage to tell the
people as Gerald Ford did what he believes is right.

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