Throughout the most painful week of Gerald Ford's fledgling presidency, public protest continued to batter the White House. Far from easing after the first shock of Ford's precipitate pardon of Richard Nixon for any and all federal crimes committed during his presidency, the controversy grew. It was fed partly by Ford's refusal to explain further his mysterious reversal on his Executive intervention, partly by White House fumbling on whether all the other Watergate offenders might also be pardoned. Ford's inexperienced aides —almost all of whom had opposed the timing of the pardon—were left scrambling futilely to justify the President's action.
Squandered Trust. There was as yet no evidence that Ford's motives were other than high-minded and merciful. Indeed, some of the criticisms of his action were overwrought and hysterical. Suggestions that justice was dead in the U.S. or that Ford's Administration had been irrevocably compromised were exaggerations. Nevertheless, Ford's first major decision raised disturbing questions about his judgment and his leadership capabilities, and called into question his competence. He had apparently needlessly, even recklessly, squandered some of that precious public trust that is so vital to every President. By associating himself so personally with the welfare of his discredited predecessor, he had allowed himself to be tainted by Watergate—a national scandal that the courts, prosecutors and Congress had labored so long and effectively to expose and resolve.
Thus, barely a month into his presidency, Gerald Ford found himself jeered by a crowd of pardon protesters outside a hotel in Pittsburgh, where he addressed a conference on urban transportation. They waved signs bearing such taunts as THE COUNTRY WON'T STAND FOR IT—a mockery of Ford's declaration about a pardon for Nixon, which Ford made during the Senate hearings to confirm him as Vice President. In an otherwise pleasant outing to help dedicate a World Golf Hall of Fame in Pinehurst, N.C., Ford faced more banners: IS NIXON ABOVE THE LAW? and JAIL CROOKS, NOT RESISTERS.
Outside the White House, some 250 pickets from George Washington University lofted a bedsheet with the words PROMISE ME PARDON AND I'LL MAKE YOU PRESIDENT—a reference to a widespread cynical suspicion that Nixon as President had exacted a pledge of a pardon from Ford before naming him Vice President and putting him in the line of succession.
The protest was not of Nixonian or Johnsonian proportions or acidity, but it was in sharp contrast to the near-universal era of good feeling that characterized Ford's first four weeks in office. A Gallup poll commissioned by the New York Times last week showed an alarming drop in Ford's popularity. From a rating of 71% approval three weeks before the pardon, he had skidded so that only 49% rated him as doing either a "fair" or "good" job. Unlike Nixon's White House aides, Ford's staff reported the extent of adverse telegrams and mail. More than 30,000 comments were received, and they ran about 6 to 1 against Ford's decision. Telephone callers were less critical; slightly more favored Ford's stand than opposed it.
Premature and Unwise. Of particular significance were the protests of judges, legal scholars,