Invented Ethos In Gerald Ford's Pardon Of Richard Nixon

1455 words - 6 pages

As of October 10, 2007, George W. Bush's approval ratings sat at a dismal 36%. Some already say that his presidency is a failure. It may be premature, however, to preemptively judge a president's success or failure. Gerald Ford, who died last year, was eulogized as a "calm and steady hand" who offered healing to a divided nation. In 1974, however, the New York Times lambasted his decision to pardon Richard Nixon as "unwise, divisive, and unjust." Ford's eulogies show that thirty years have given him a weighty situated ethos as the consequences of his actions become clearer in the lens of historical hindsight. But on September 8, 1974, Gerald Ford addressed the nation as a new president that the people had not directly elected. He faced a monumental rhetorical task-to convince a cynical nation that had suffered through two years of Watergate that a full and complete pardon of Nixon was in the best interest of the people. But, only a month into his presidency, he knew that if he hoped to have any level of ethos with his audience he would have to invent it himself.Ford rode into the White House on a reputation for honesty and trustworthiness that he had built in the House of Representatives, and carries that reputation for good judgment into the opening paragraphs of his speech. "Ladies and gentlemen," he says, "I have come to a decision," and then lets us know that he is "certain in [his] own mind and . . . conscience that it is the right thing to do." Although the public may not know his reputation, he invokes it nevertheless, since he knows that they are very familiar with the reputations of his predecessors, Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon. When honest Jerry Ford says his decision is right for America, we believe it-only if we know that he can be counted on as honest Jerry Ford. This tenuous situated ethos, likely only understood by those who served with Ford in Congress, is just a lead-in, since constructing Ford's invented ethos is the real task at hand.Throughout the speech, Ford displays an acute awareness of the historical significance of his pardon, showing that he has done his homework. "I do believe that the buck stops here," he says, reminding us of the agonizing decision Harry Truman made to end World War II. Quoting another president, he says "I do believe that right makes might," summoning images of Abraham Lincoln struggling to hold together a divided nation. With this awareness of history, he reminds us that "there are no historic or legal precedents to which I can turn in this matter" which connects him, by analogy, to past presidents who made similarly weighty and difficult decisions. Neither Truman nor Lincoln had any precedent but still acted wisely in the eyes of history. Ford hopes to convince us that he is made from the same mold as those two men, and that his decisions will one day be viewed like theirs.Turning his vision from the past to the future, Ford gives a brief glimpse into what could happen if he does not act....

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