For all the depravity of the 24-hour news cycle, some stories are worthy of reportage but don’t fit easily into a partisan agenda.
Often, you don’t quite know how to react when you hear political news for the first time. No particular emotion jumps out. Even preprogrammed demagogues—Glenn Beck and Glenn Beck come to mind—have to have some trouble shoehorning everything into their cookie-cutter lunacy.
Sometimes it’s easy, like with taxes. There’s conservative accusatory nonsense: Higher taxes, you say? What is this, Communist Nazi Anarchist 1930s Finland? And there’s sycophantic liberal idiocy: Blah, blah, blah, I have feelings. Nobody wins.
Then there are the tough issues. I’m not talking about abortion tough or stem-cell tough, where the moral stakes are high and both sides passionately adhere to their principles. I’m talking about those ambiguous nuggets of news that fall somewhere between “Ha—that’s weird!” and “Who gives a shit?”
Let’s try something fun.Let’s take the same piece of news and write it twice and see which one we like more, which one makes the most sense.
Last Friday, President Barack Obama pardoned nine felons and in doing so wiped their records clean.
Here are two factually accurate accounts of that story.
After lasting for the second-longest time in office without invoking the constitutional right of clemency, President Obama expunged the records of nine individuals who had served their time and petitioned their government to alleviate the burdens of a felony record.
One man, 66-year-old Vietnam veteran Ronald Foster, had a lone blight of criminality on his record: a 1963 incident where the then-19-year-old Marine was caught altering pennies to use them as dimes in vending machines. The young, cash-strapped man, like many brave soldiers of that bygone era, soon shipped off for a tour in Vietnam and never imagined that a crime like his would linger for decades after. His constitutionally provided freedoms were limited until he recently learned that he’d been harried by this minor offense for over 40 years.
Floretta Leavy is another veteran who had long ago served her time. So is Edgar Leopold Kranz, Jr., a former Airman from North Dakota. Both were pardoned by President Obama. Servicemen and women like these two have dedicated themselves to the protection of our country. Now that their civil rights are reestablished, they can enjoy the freedoms that they helped protect.
The same goes for Russell James Dixon, a man accused of the nonviolent crime of moonshining liquor in 1960—before the president was born! This simple man, born in rural Georgia, achieved his personal freedom without connections in Washington or even a lawyer—a remarkable accomplishment that speaks to individuals’ power in our justice system.
These pardons were long overdue because, on average, presidents typically invoke this power earlier in their administration. Hundreds of years of presidential history have provided a strong precedent for Obama’s actions. In G.W. Bush’s two terms, he pardoned 200 people; Reagan and Carter pardoned over 400 each. To this point President Obama has been parsimonious with his pardons as these nine are the first on his watch.
Despite being tried in a court of law and sentenced to penalties rooted in centuries of American jurisprudence, nine former felons had their records expunged last week. Barack Hussein Obama chose to forego our country’s corpus of legal philosophy and single out nine individuals for special treatment. Rather than undertake the penance handed down by our legal system’s venerable jurists, these petitioners will enjoy a restoration of their civil rights despite previous criminality.
You’ll notice that Obama didn’t commute any sentences—meaning he didn’t shorten the jail time of our nation’s 200,000 inmates. Instead he used these nine people, all of whom had already done their time years ago, as puppets to push his political agenda. Four of the former felons were convicted in a court of law for cocaine-related charges. This is another instance of Obama softening the implications of cocaine possession. By including chintzy little stories like that of the coin mutilator, the four former drug possessors seem innocent by association. Obama has consistently sought to lighten cocaine possession and four of these pardons put this fact front and center.
You’ll also notice that Obama cleverly waited until December to announce the pardons. “Well, it’s a tradition to show clemency around the holidays,” you might say. Then why did Barry O., like Dubya before him, wait until his second Christmas in office to make a move? Could it be because midterm elections are a lousy time for an administration to seem soft on crime?
This is a facet of American politics that has a monarchic feel—the notion that a single ruler can overturn the decisions of the courts. And let’s not forget two of the most famous villains in American history—Richard Nixon and George Steinbrenner—were granted clemency despite sordid abuses of our nation’s purest institutions: presidential politics and baseball. Because of presidential pardons these two scheming cheaters were never brought to justice.
What makes more sense? Is this a PR stunt? Was the president truly “moved by the strength of the applicants’ post-conviction efforts at atonement, as well as their superior citizenship and individual achievements in the years since their convictions,” as White House spokesman Reid Cherlin said? Or is this an anachronistic loophole that has hung on despite being a lightning bolt for past controversy?
Are these people getting off too easy?