When George W. Bush Dies
by Randy Shaw‚ Jan. 09‚ 2007
Media coverage of Gerald Ford’s death likely boosted President Bush’s decision to escalate America’s war in Iraq. Why? Because Bush made a point of strongly praising Ford for his politically unpopular pardon of Richard Nixon, saying Ford did what was best for America even though the action likely cost him the 1976 election. Bush sees escalating the Iraq war as analogous to Ford’s pardon— a decision unpopular at its time but for which history will vindicate him. The media whitewashing of Ford—which followed even greater historical reinventions after the deaths of Nixon and Ronald Reagan —confirms Bush’s view that history will absolve him for the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, and that expanding the war will not endanger his post-death legacy.
George W. Bush would likely have proposed escalating the Iraq War even if Gerald Ford had not died in December. But there’s no question that media coverage of Ford’s death, and that of other recent presidents, reaffirmed Bush’s view that the war will not hurt his legacy.
Excessive media coverage of Ford’s death has typically been attributed to a slow news week. But Frank Rich argued in the New York Times that it was an attempt to make the current President Bush look bad. Rich observed that all of Ford’s attributes highlighted by the media—his bipartisanship, lack of ideological rigidity, willingness to listen and be influenced by the opinions of others—are precisely those qualities missing in our current President.
But based on news clips I heard, Bush had his own interpretation of Ford’s death. He lauded Ford for putting the nation’s interests ahead of his own political needs, an interpretation of Ford’s pardoning of Richard Nixon that reverberated through the media. Bush said that Ford’s action cost him the 1976 presidential election, but that it was the right thing to do.
When Ford pardoned Nixon, most Americans were irate. The level of ongoing anger was not as great or sustained as that accompanying the Iraq war, but the fact that Bush and others believe it cost Ford the 1976 election against Jimmy Carter shows that—contrary to recent media spin—Americans did not appreciate the pardon for allegedly “putting our long national nightmare behind us.”
That latter view was the “spin” by Nixon defenders. Now its become the conventional wisdom for most of the American media.
If post-death historical revisionism can transform Ford’s pardon into a selfless act of political courage—rather than part a secret backroom deal that first enabled Ford to become Vice-President and then President— than Bush’s Iraq invasion and occupation can be similarly reinterpreted.
And, sad to say, but when Bush dies twenty or so years from now, his misguided butchery in Iraq will be either erased from the historical record—as occurred with Reagan’s illegal and violent military interventions into Central America—or be framed as a mistaken but well-intentioned attempt to foster democracy.
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