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Before He Was Good

Gerald Ford disapproved of the lifestyle of an Associate Justice and moved to impeach.......

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, December 27, 2006.

This is the day: the least listened-to commentary of the year, bar none. It’s also the least downloaded by stations – go figure! - which probably explains the audience size. So, it’s just you and me, kid. Freshen my drink while you make the popcorn; I’ll still be here. No ice.

It was only seven years ago we were being inundated by predictions and promises of catastrophe because of – you’ve already forgot – Y2K bugs. Computer software issues that would collapse western civilization, launch missiles, drain reservoirs. People were offering services to protect you from falling airplanes, massive black outs, complete anarchy. Remember them? And remember the idiots assuring us of some god or other coming in judgment? Even religious cults and established creeds deal in product placement and take advantage of market trends. Create a fear with a pop up ad to offer protection. It’s a racket, and the left deals with it as sinfully as the right. I’ve tried every year to recall these revolting thugs to you so they don’t get to pretend to decency or appear as the coldly objective when opportunity knocks for them again, as it surely will. There are so many, and you know them when you think about it. Don’t forget.

The man who pointlessly and for political gain tried to impeach Associate Justice William O. Douglas for having a succession of young and beautiful wives just died. I don’t dislike Gerald Ford, and it’s difficult to doubt the wisdom of the Nixon pardon, especially among those of us who think a Peace and Reconciliation Commission ought to be established in this nation sooner than later. But the presentation of Ford as a more decent James Stewart character isn’t true. Ford was as partisan and opportunistic and as hypocritical as the next Congressman.

The cheerfully liberal Douglas had once tried to stay the executions of the Rosenbergs, who time demands I explain were convicted of treason, and there was a move to impeach him for that which failed, but in April of 1970 conservatives thought they had a chance. Douglas had then been divorced three times, his wives gutted his income and left nothing from his salary at the Supreme Court, and he gave a lot of speeches and wrote articles to make up the difference. Douglas also served on the Boards of foundations for income. He’d written articles.....well, we'll let Congressman Ford explain about the articles. Despite the efforts of the then Nixon White House and it’s criminal Attorney General John Mitchell (who had his own marital problems), there was a complete lack of proof that Douglas had done anything wrong at all, much less anything illegal, much less an impeachable offense. Ford called House hearings to consider impeachment nevertheless, and oddly was his own main witness. Ford castigated Douglas for his “liberal opinions” and his defense of the X rated film I Am Curious Yellow, which Ford, who said he hadn’t seen it, called filthy. If he’d called it boring, and the principles ugly and fat, he might have had a point, but Freedom’s Land was titillated by the first allowed public performance of fellatio on screen, and the film was a success. And that’s apparently what annoyed Ford, a sense that the culture wars involving sexual equality and freedom and shots to the groin of the patriarchy, were coming. Betty Ford was drinking heavily during this period, coincidently.

Ford also damned Douglas for accepting $350 for an article on - gasp! - folk music in a magazine called Avant Garde, whose publisher had served time in 1966 for distribution of a pornography. Ford’s money quote, for which you might want to herd children away from the radio, was this: “The article itself is not pornographic, although it praises the lusty, lurid, and risqué along with the social protest of left-wing folk singers.” In a froth of superiority, Ford then attacked Douglas for another article in Evergreen Magazine, which was infamous for its proximity to pictures of naked women. Ford refused to give Democrats copies of this shocking evidence, suggesting they no longer existed and that Ford hadn’t actually seen any, but just heard about them.

That’s all there was to Ford’s case to bring down the longest serving member of the Supreme Court, by all accounts brilliant, who had once said in an opinion that if notional concepts like corporations could have legal standing, so could trees, by which he meant the environment. Although he’s seemingly forgotten by every entity that benefited from his wisdom, Douglas was a Green Party wet dream in power. We need a Douglas on the bench today: compassionate, environmental, and real world. That he was a philanderer and thought well of himself doesn’t really matter to me. Does it to you?

This does not wobble the great good Ford did as President. He was mostly good and decent, and that’s better than average when you think about it. He did not deserve to be seen as an uncoordinated oaf, and he took his position responsibly. Who wouldn’t prefer him today?

But while justice – by law or shunning - is owed the living, the truth is owed the dead. Before he was good, Gerald Ford was, at least once, quite bad.