Sen. Kennedy on Ford's Courageous Decision

Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy once condemned Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon, but later became convinced that it was the right decision. In 2001, Kennedy presented Ford with a "Profile in Courage" award. He speaks with Noah Adams about the death of the former president.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

Five years ago, Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy presented Gerald Ford with a Profile in Courage award. It honors elected public servants for decisions of conscience and principle.

Senator Kennedy had been a critic of President Ford's decision to pardon Richard Nixon. But when he gave Mr. Ford the award, Kennedy stated that time has a way of clarifying past events and we see now that President Ford was right.

Earlier today, I spoke with Senator Kennedy.

Senator EDWARD KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): I can remember when this issue came up to the judges of the Profile in Courage committee. And what was enormously interesting is to listen to historians and thoughtful individuals who talked about what the country would have been like if President Ford had not taken that step versus what the country was like when President Ford did take that step.

ADAMS: When that happened, when you got together in the room for the first time, everybody was looking at you probably?

Sen. KENNEDY: Well, I think there were people in that room, including the historians that had been critical at the time. But once, we had the benefit of hindsight and once we had a benefit of history, it became much clearer.

And I must say, I was both inspired and enlightened, and it enormously encouraged, and incredibly proud that at the end of the deliberations, where Caroline Kennedy who was the chair of the board, when he had the proposal that came before the committee, the vote was virtually unanimous. It certainly wasn't at the beginning of the discussion.

ADAMS: Had you thought about it much in the intervening years?

Sen. KENNEDY: Not really. I think that most of us in the United States Senate are basically firemen and firewomen. The Congress as an institution doesn't have the luxury of giving a distant view, either to policy or to history. I think the executive branch has that opportunity because the president can ask people, serious people to give thought, sit back from an issue, give thought to it and report back.

And I think American people are expecting it. But this was an incredibly touching moment when President Ford was - came to the library. It was clearly his family - a wonderful, wonderful family.

Mrs. Ford is a gracious and wonderful lady who has occupied the White House. Everyone of his children beaming with pride about their father. And it was a great vindication. I mean, its, you know, there's few times, I think, for those who are in public life that they take the difficult, challenging decisions in the face of the wrath of the people. And in their time are vindicated so thoroughly as President Ford was.

ADAMS: The differences that you had with him, with Gerald Ford, over the years aside, I'm just guessing that the two of you were friends.

Sen. KENNEDY: Yes. I think the fact that he had played football and had been in the Congress with my brother. And they had been friends. I had met him previously, and he was a good friend to Tip O'Neil, he's a good friend of all of the members of our family. He was very gracious on each and every occasion that we met. He understood that, you know, you can make progress for the country and someone doesn't necessarily lose. You know, it is the prevailing view today is if someone wins, someone else loses.

Gerry Ford understood that you can work with your opposition, you can stay true to your principles, and you can get something done and the country wins, and the people who are involved in it win. He understood, I think, a very important concept of political life today that is, that is rarely recognized, and that is when your people work and work together, and you work something out.

Both sides win, but most importantly, the country wins. That isn't something that we have seen in recent times. That's why many of us who were fortunate enough to have worked with the President Ford have a high regard and respect for him, and obviously for his family. And all the Kennedys send our condolences and our prayers, best wishes to them.

ADAMS: Senator Edward Kennedy, talking with us earlier today about President Gerald Ford who died yesterday at the age of 93.

BRAND: Scores of political leaders and historians have been speaking out today about Gerald Ford's legacy. Later in the program, we'll get a more personal view of Ford's presidency.

ADAMS: We'll hear from David Hume Kennerly. He was White House photographer during the Ford administration. His photographs captured a behind the scenes look at Gerald Ford during decision time, and the more lighthearted moments. That's coming up later in the program.

BRAND: You can read about Gerald Ford's place in history, view a photo gallery, and hear audio of key moments in his presidency. It's all at our Web site, NPR.org.

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