Mmm: Cake only a lawyer could like

I wrote recently about the pain that Watergate left on a nation—and on my birthday, forever marked as the anniversary of one President pardoning a former President.

However, this week, some gifts—both thoughtful and odd—went a long way toward erasing 1974’s pain.

So I decided to post on the blog of a Saturday—a rare event when time is at a premium. I guarantee it’ll be pretty light lifting.

First, a reminder of the historic event.

It was September 8, 1974, when President Gerald Ford spared a nation (his words) the pain of a drawn-out impeachment process. On that day, he read his proclamation to the world.

President Gerald Ford, Sept. 8, 1974

The text of the proclamation itself can be read here. The order granted Nixon an unconditional pardon “for all offenses from January 20, 1969, the day he was first inaugurated as president.”

One of the pleasures of history is to come across artifacts that convey something true from the contemporary time. And that’s why I love this image below. It is one of the many letters sent to President Ford after his pardon. It was gathered by the National Archives.

You can see more from the Archives here.

So on my birthday Thursday, as we read the morning Arizona Republic, my wife noted that day’s historic blurb and photo on page A2: Ford pardons Nixon. But it only took until that evening to put the specter aside.

That’s because family and friends shared an odd assortment of gifts and tschotckes. Every one made me smile and chuckle. For a non-law-related blog post on AZ Attorney, this is hard to beat.

Thanks to Kathy, Willa and Thea (my family) and to Randy, Sarah, Olivia, Elena, Jack and Amelia, a whole other family of friends who swooped in with a goofy and heartfelt surprise.

If you’re feeling particularly non-legal today, click here to see the gifts.

See you back here Monday.

OK, I am willing to admit that I take the whole Watergate scandal rather personally. But for me and many others, Watergate was a watershed. And for some of us, it hit pretty close to home.

As the surreal nature of 1973 devolved into the constitutional crisis of 1974, I was but a wee lad in upstate New York. When the news of a mundane break-in came in the newspapers (young people, ask the old people what those were), no one in my family (and few in the news media) had an inkling that it would eventually bring down a presidency.

Whenever the Watergate hearings were televised, they were on in my house. And so powerful was the testimony and so compelling the questioners, it occurred to a young me that it would be honorable to be a United States Senator (thanks a lot, Sam Ervin). It took fully three more decades to understand the folly of that estimation.

But by the time the hearings had done their work and shown the Nixon presidency to be the hollow criminal enterprise that it was, the summer of 1974 was over, and we all awaited what we thought would be the inevitable.

Until my 12th birthday on September 8. On that fateful day, President Gerald Ford pardoned his predecessor of all crimes. It was over—but so incomplete.

“He can’t do that!” I insisted to my dad, who stared, ashen, at the TV.

I look happy, but a constitutional crisis gnawed at a nation.

“Well, yes, yes, I think he can,” gulped a man who had spent the summer telling his sons that we were witnessing the wheels of democracy working toward a just conclusion.

The rest of that birthday holds no memories for me. The TV was blissfully turned off, and the house, myself included, sank into a lethargy of mourning. For at least one 12-year-old, President Ford had exercised his first and last decision of any import, and it was cast in infamy.

Looking back, of course, I can see I was a dramatic young man. But it’s hard to shake the notion that a nation’s cynicism was poured in lead by Nixon and hardened in a steaming bath by Ford.

And that’s why this week’s little news item about a DC parking garage cheered me, just a little.

At long last, a historic marker has been erected outside the garage where Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward met with FBI deputy director Mark Felt (code-named “Deep Throat” by a Post editor who could be pretty dramatic himself). There, amid the screech of tires and the odor of gasoline, Felt provided valuable information about the obstruction of the FBI’s Watergate investigation. That information, and what the Post did with it, underscored the belief that we are a nation of laws, and not of men.

As the nearly interminable 18-month presidential campaign rouses itself into an extended exercise in obstreperous obscurity and oppressive obloquy, I would invite each of the candidates to stop by the garage. Pause between the dog-walkers and the valet-parkers. Block out the taxi honks, and read the sign.

And then ask yourself if you aspire to the greatness that two men demonstrated in a dark, dank garage. Ask whether you care enough about a country and its institutions that you would take real risks to expose the crimes and misdemeanors of the nation’s most powerful people. Ask whether you would pursue justice doggedly and with a conviction that a democratic people deserve nothing less.

And then—and only then—return to the campaign trail.

Here’s what a former disillusioned Cub Scout thinks: A visit like that would have to make every one of the candidates more qualified for the job of President.

Hell, it’s worth a shot.