If You'll Pardon Us

BILL BONVIE

November 15, 1992|By BILL BONVIE

Improbable as it may sound, there is still something President Bush can do to help get this country moving again -- and thus get history to take a kinder, gentler view of him during his final weeks in office.

That is, he can follow the advice of GOP compatriots like Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole and get busy issuing presidential pardons for former Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger and any other officials who may yet face prosecution related to the Iran-contra scandal.

True, such a move might conceivably allow some guilty parties to escape the punishment they deserve. Far more important, however, it would allow the beleaguered American people to escape a form of punishment they decidedly don't deserve -- that of having to shoulder the additional burden of scandal-related news left over from previous administrations that just seem to go on accumulating with no end in sight.

The fact is that, given our obligation to keep up with the prodigious amounts of new news constantly being generated, having backlogged cases of this sort continue to clog our media and encroach upon our overcrowded minds is something that we as a nation simply can't afford to let happen at this juncture.

Nor should our already overtaxed news organizations be saddled with having to worry about maintaining interest in events that should have resolved themselves years ago.

Fortunately for us, what could have been a major crisis along these lines was narrowly averted back in the 1970s when another Republican president, Gerald Ford, had the wisdom and foresight to pardon his predecessor, Richard Nixon, for any offenses committed while in office on which he might subsequently have been indicted.

With that simple stroke of the pen, Mr. Ford thus spared a Watergate-weary public the ordeal of having to face countless more months and perhaps years of additional rehashings and replays of the numerous shopworn sequences associated with that ill-starred episode by, in effect, transferring responsibility for them from the headline-writers to the historians (not to mention having given us the benefit of RMN's sage counsel and advice in the resurrected role of elder statesman).

But just as shortsighted critics faulted, rather than praised, Mr. Ford for having drawn a line in the sand at the point where he believed the average American's patience and attention span to have run out, so today those who scorn the prospect of a presidential pardon would have the whole six-year-old Iran-contra mess continue to drag on, serving only to dilute our focus on truly current events with undue concentration on what is now yesterday's news.

(In this, they're not unlikely those teachers who insist on detaining the entire class for the transgressions of one or two members -- an example being a junior high instructor I once had whose rationale for such collective punitive action was that she considered her classrooms to be "democracies.")

Perhaps in an ideal society, there might be room for interminable examination of such matters until at long last a just resolution presented itself -- some kind of ultimate determination of who knew what and when they knew it.

In the real world, however, there's only so much time or so many column inches that can be devoted on any given day to that day's aggregate events. There's only so much informational input that the majority of us, endowed with neither speed-reading ability nor total recall, are capable of absorbing and processing in order to feel as though we're more or less "in the loop."

That leaves three options: either suffering passe Iran-contra disclosures to go crowding out timely developments, having the news media ignore them and thus permit once high-ranking officials to be tried in virtual secrecy (a decidedly undemocratic alternative), or the simple expedient of a pardon by a president who at this point would have nothing to lose except his reputation for inaction on the domestic front.

Rather than allowing the book to be thrown at Casper Weinberger and company, let's hope Bush opts to close this particular one -- adding stature to his last days in the White House by allowing us to clear the decks of timeworn tidings for whatever new intrigue may be awaiting our fleeting fancy just over the political horizon.

Bill Bonvie, a free-lance writer, has always had quite a bit of difficulty remaining in the loop on Iran-contra developments.

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