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Gerald Ford

Courageous leaders make difficult decisions. Difficult decisions are the easiest decisions for others to second-guess. Therefore, courageous leaders will always be second-guessed leaders.

Gerald R. Ford became president of the United States on August 9, 1974, after Richard Nixon resigned to avoid certain impeachment hearings for his role in the Watergate scandal. Nixon had picked Ford, a Congressman from Michigan, to replace Spiro Agnew as Vice President less than a year earlier when Agnew resigned amid his own dishonor. I remember watching as Ford addressed the nation on television, and I recall him saying, "Our long national nightmare is over...I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your president by your ballots. So I ask you to confirm me with your prayers."

On September 8, 1974, a month after taking office, Ford made a decision many would second-guess. He pardoned Nixon for any crimes he may have committed while in office, freeing Nixon from future prosecution for his part in the Watergate affair. Although Nixon had not been formally charged, Ford said the investigation "could go on and on and on, or someone must write the end to it. I have concluded that only I can do that, and if I can, I must."

Widely criticized at the time by the media, Congress, and the public for pardoning Nixon, history would reveal the wisdom of Ford's decision. In fact, he won the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in 2001 for his courage in issuing the pardon. Senator Edward Kennedy, presenting the award to Ford, said:

"At a time of national turmoil, America was fortunate that it was Gerald Ford who took the helm of the storm-tossed ship of state. Unlike many of us at the time, President Ford recognized that the nation had to move forward, and could not do so if there was a continuing effort to prosecute former President Nixon. So President Ford made a courageous decision, one that historians now say cost him his office, and he pardoned Richard Nixon. I was one of those who spoke out against his action then. But time has a way of clarifying past events, and now we see that President Ford was right. His courage and dedication to our country made it possible for us to begin the process of healing and put the tragedy of Watergate behind us."

President Gerald Ford died yesterday at the age of ninety-three. Although some might second-guess his decisions, no one can question his courage.
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