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Jewish World Review / Oct. 9, 1998 /19 Tishrei, 5759

Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg Gerald Ford, Mr. Fix-It?

DO YOU SUPPOSE GERALD FORD has hit his head on another airplane door or just eaten another tamale, husk and all? Those remain the highlights of his presidential campaign in '76, or was it ``Saturday Night Live''? It was never easy to tell the difference.

There was always something so affable about Gerald Ford's bumbling that one tended not to notice just how dangerous it was, as when he pardoned Richard Nixon. For to leave justice undone is to divide a people. Instead of ending the bitterness, he managed to
extend it for another generation. And it was left to time to cover a wound that even now may flare up at unexpected times. Nothing is ever settled till it's settled right.

And now in his old age, Mr. Ford has come up with another instant fix, another easy out and another punch line. He's going to be around as long as Milton Berle, may he live, laugh and be well. Our never-elected president and champion pratfaller suggests that, instead of the impeachment process mentioned in the Constitution, the country's current and much-elected president be summoned to the well of the House of Representatives and be given a severe talking-to. Or, as Mr. Ford put it in his always stultifying way, a ``harshly worded rebuke.''

A lecture and a good grounding has been known to straighten out a wayward teen-ager, but it may be too late to use the same technique on a perpetually adolescent president. Mr. Ford's suggestion also sounds a bit extra-constitutional. Just where in that document is a Harshly Worded Rebuke mentioned?

The Senate of the United States did censure Andrew Jackson -- in 1834 -- but that lasted only until the Whigs were beaten in the next election, whereupon the Democrats promptly rescinded the resolution of censure in 1837. It was clear to all then and now that the censure had been a political maneuver, a quick fix -- not an act of justice.

The senators of that era did have the prudence not to invite Old Hickory to appear on Capitol Hill, which might have compromised not only the separation of powers, but their own safety. If anybody was going to be rebuked in his time, General Jackson usually did the rebuking. Anyone who dared confront that Tennessean might count himself fortunate to escape without being shot, or maybe hanged. A duelist or two and a couple of Englishmen might have testified to that effect -- if they had survived.

Where does Gerald Ford come up with these bright ideas? Do you think he's confused the constitutional system with a parliamentary one -- the way he once confused a tamale with a hot dog?

Yes, ministers of Her Majesty's government may be routinely questioned, regularly abused and generally held accountable in the House of Commons, but this country took a different path circa 1776. Here presidents are accountable to law, and the process has a name: impeachment. My always handy copy of the Constitution says nothing about Harshly Worded Rebuke. It's not even in the Federalist Papers, is it?

The essence of Gerald Ford's politics remains the ad lib, but sometimes it's not funny. Not when it's the Constitution that's being got around. Now that the House of Representatives has voted to go forward with this investigation rather than dismiss or curtail it, many more such moments doubtless await. This process called impeachment is going to be quite a show as it goes from the Gerald Ford to the sublime.


10/07/98:Impeachment Journal: Dept. of Doublespeak
10/01/98: The new tradition
9/25/98: Mr. President, PLEASE don't resign
9/23/98: The demolition of meaning
9/18/98: So help us G-d; The nature of the crisis
9/17/98: First impressions: on reading the Starr Report
9/15/98: George Wallace: All the South in one man
9/10/98: Here comes the judge
9/07/98: Toward impeachment
9/03/98: The politics of impeachment
9/01/98: The eagle can still soar
8/28/98: Boris Yeltsin's mind: a riddle pickled in an enigma
8/26/98: Clinton agonistes, or: Twisting in the wind
8/25/98: The rise of the English murder
8/24/98: Confess and attack: Slick comes semi-clean
8/19/98: Little Rock perspectives
8/14/98: Department of deja vu
8/12/98: The French would understand
8/10/98: A fable: The Rat in the Corner
8/07/98: Welcome to the roaring 90s
8/06/98: No surprises dept. -- promotion denied
8/03/98: Quotes of and for the week: take your pick
7/29/98: A subpoena for the president:
so what else is new?
7/27/98: Forget about Bubba, it's time to investigate Reno
7/23/98: Ghosts on the roof, 1998
7/21/98: The new elegance
7/16/98: In defense of manners
7/13/98: Another day, another delay: what's missing from the scandal news
7/9/98:The language-wars continue
7/7/98:The new Detente
7/2/98: Bubba in Beijing: history does occur twice
6/30/98: Hurry back, Mr. President -- to freedom
6/24/98: When Clinton follows Quayle's lead
6/22/98: Independence Day, 2002
6/18/98: Adventures in poli-speke

©1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate