The Man Who Saved America From Itself

In a file photo President Gerald Ford reads a proclamation in the White House on Sept. 9, 1974 , granting former president Richard Nixon "a full, free and absolute pardon" for all "offenses against the United States" during the period of his presidency. Former first lady Betty Ford said Tuesday Dec. 26, 2006, that President Gerald Ford has died. (AP Photo)
AP Photo
This column was written by CBS News Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith.

It's kind of hard to remember just how crazy in was back in the 70s when Gerald Ford became president.

Our heroes had been assassinated, out cities had burned. Tens of thousands of young Americans ha died fighting in Vietnam, and the economy was a shambles. President Nixon was Public Enemy No. 1, the Watergate hearings were churning into articles of impeachment and Nixon ultimately resigned in disgrace.

Then Ford, famous only because he was not elected to his office, pardoned Nixon. The pound of flesh much of the public craved was not going to be consumed on Ford's watch.

The country needed to move on, Ford said. And while his staffers advised him not to grant the pardon, he did so anyway — and America resented him for it.

Nixon went to California to begin his rehabilitation. And Ford? Well, he merely saved the country from itself.

Harry's daily commentary can be heard on many CBS Radio News affiliates across the country.