Death Does Wonders for Legacy

Saddam Hussein is a lucky man — in no time at all he can expect to have his reputation vastly improved. And he can thank the hangman who awaits him on the gallows.

Prior to that moment when he breathes his last, his reputation will be in shreds. He has, rightly, been seen as a monster. The mere act of his dying, however, will enable his supporters to smooth over his role in those troublesome times when he was slaughtering his own people by the hundreds of thousands.

If you doubt that scenario, consider what we are now witnessing with the death of former President Gerald R. Ford. After his pardon of Richard Nixon in September 1974, you would have had to hire a private detective to find anyone who did not consider him a scoundrel for pardoning the hated Nixon, whose foes would have been satisfied only if Nixon had been utterly humiliated, tried, found guilty and sent to prison for life.

Ford robbed them of that satisfaction and they never forgave him, but his foes did take great pleasure out of observing that the pardon was the reason why Gerald Ford lost the presidency in 1976.

His name was mud, yet by dying he rehabilitated himself. All those hypocrites who cast him out into the outer darkness for daring to show compassion to his predecessor — thereby saving the nation from the years-long ordeal prosecution of Nixon would have involved — now heap praise on him.

Ford’s pardon was greeted by a firestorm of criticism, threats were leveled against him, and he was accused of making a shady deal with Tricky Dick to swap a pardon for the presidency. All the hatred and bile the left had for Nixon was then aimed at Ford.

His popularity ratings, sky-high when he took the oath of office, plummeted. He never recovered from the debacle he unleashed with the pardon. And he was driven out of the White House to be replaced by Jimmy Carter, who would become arguably the worst president in American history yet go himself into the honored retirement denied Gerald Ford.

Like most of his Democratic colleagues, Massachusetts Senator Teddy Kennedy was appalled by the pardon, calling it "a betrayal of the public trust."

Unlike most of his Democratic colleagues, however, Kennedy softened and didn’t wait until Ford was dead to praise him for what the pardon had done for the nation. At the 2001 Profile of Courage award ceremony honoring Ford, Kennedy said: "We now recognize that Ford was there when the country needed him. He was calm and steady at a time of emotional upheaval and disillusionment. When he said our long national nightmare was over, the country breathed a sigh of relief. He was an uncommonly good and decent man."

In dying, Ford erased all those negative comments and the people who slandered and reviled him came rushing to the microphones to heap praise on him for issuing the pardon they had so vigorously condemned.

Think about the lesson Ford’s death teaches. Once a pariah, he now gets the “de mortuis nil nisi bonum” treatment (of the dead speak only good).

Moreover, he is to be further honored by a book by Bob Woodward who, contrary to his usual practice, interviewed him while he was still alive and conscious. Ford, he is said to be ready to reveal, opposed the Iraq war but didn’t want anybody to know it until he was gone.

Getting back to what all this means to the soon-to-be-dead Saddam Hussein, if the obits are anything like the ones Gerald Ford earned by passing away, we can expect to be told that after all, Saddam did clean up the mess he inherited in Iraq, and keep order and prevent the population from butchering each other by taking on that job himself.

He introduced law and order, and kept the peace, although in not quite the same way Rudy Giuliani cleaned up New York City. Giuliani, after all, left no unmarked mass graves scattered around New York.

But hey, Saddam got results even we haven’t been able to achieve, and as a result the Iraqis have now taken on the job of reducing the population without any help from the government.