Friday, December 04, 2009

The unpardonable sin

An insanity plea might work

The collective irrationality of today's right-wing pundits makes it relatively easy to be a comparatively sane conservative. So why are there so few of the latter? I guess there's nothing like the freedom-loving right-wing extremists for enforcing absolute adherence to a rigorous standard. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders tries her best to be an independent voice, but often fails. And, unfortunately, her occasional successes have problems of their own.

Last week, for example, Saunders penned a ridiculous column with whose premise I paradoxically agree. Does that sound weird enough for you? Allow me to explain.

On November 24, 2009, the Chronicle published a Saunders column that took President Obama to task for his stingy application of his pardoning powers. Here she shakes an admonitory finger at the nation's chief executive:
Obama hasn't pardoned a single ex-offender, even though about 1,200 people have asked for pardons because they have turned their lives around, expressed remorse for their crimes and now want to wipe the criminal slate clean of long-past offenses for which they paid the penalty.
That's right. Debra Saunders is a bleeding-heart conservative. It's one of her favorite ways to step to a different drummer while the rest of the right-wing crowd march in lockstep to the tempo of the teabaggers. Her particular concern is the number of nonviolent offenders who are serving disproportionately long sentences for minor crimes. The nation's draconian anti-drug laws have jammed the jails and prisons with people who scarcely deserve to be called criminals. I agree with Saunders that we have an unhealthy penchant for incarceration in this country (USA! Number One!) and that the presidential pardon could help to right some of the injustices.
When you think about it, the pardon petition is the rare Washington exercise that encourages politically unconnected people to petition their president for relief. But like Bush and Clinton before him, Obama seems to be hoarding this power. It's as if Team Obama sees justice as perk, not an equal right.
Yes, indeed. President Obama should get busy commuting some sentences and righting some wrongs. And the friends and political allies of Debra Saunders will rally around him and praise him for his devotion to the principles of justice and fairness.

Yeah. Right.

Now Debra Saunders did not claim that people would cheer such presidential action. To be fair, she actually said, “This is where a number of readers no doubt are talking back to the paper and saying that it's just fine with them if Obama keeps career criminals behind bars, thank you very much.”

Ha, ha, Debra! You jolly joker! She could have been just a little more honest and said something like, “We conservatives would then have Obama for lunch, crunch his bones with our teeth, and spit out the splinters!” The language is just a shade too florid for the gentle Saunders, but it captures the sense of what we know would occur in reality. Right-wing pundits would “Willie Horton” the president in a nanosecond. Teabaggers would demand his impeachment for various imagined crimes (as they are already doing).

The cherry on the Saunders silly sundae was delivered this week, when Debra returned to the topic of executive clemency. On December 3, 2009, the Chronicle ran her column on Mike Huckabee, a candidate in 2008 for the Republican nomination for president and the former governor of Arkansas. Huckabee, you see, was a soft touch for criminals who had “found Jesus” and was quick to give them “Get Out of Jail Free” cards. One of those pardoned criminals is the late Maurice Clemmons, the man accused of ambushing and killing four policemen in Washington state. No doubt Saunders was wishing she had not written her earlier column on the eve of the Clemmons crime spree.
I am especially angry at Huckabee because I support the pardon system. With so many nonviolent, first-time drug offenders serving long federal sentences, there should be more—not zero—sentence commutations from the Obama White House.
I say again that I agree with Saunders in principle, but I also would like to point out a couple of things that she utterly fails to address, stripping her argument of any realistic context:

First, the right wing in American politics is responsible for debasing the level of discourse in this country to such a degree that any measured approach to executive pardons is impossible. There is no doubt—none at all—that every single presidential pardon would be the occasion of screaming, braying, chest-pounding, rending of garments, frothing at the mouth, and scattering of ashes. These are the people who routinely accuse their political opponents of treason, dishonesty, and conspiratorial plans to destroy the nation. Civil discourse is entirely beyond them.

Second, Huckabee is merely one example of the power of clot-minded religion to turn people into credulous simpletons. The Republican Party, in particular, is infested with candidates who think the world was created in six days less than 10,000 years ago or pander to those who do. Huckabee was a member in good standing of this Dark Age fraternity. While his remaining political aspirations, if any, are now dead and gone (and unlikely to experience resurrection), there are still plenty of politicians who give religious dogma priority over rational thought. With Sarah Palin on the scene, backward thinking still has a future.

Pardon me for retching.


Anonymous said...

Bravo, Zed - an excellent post. Insightful analysis and a good read, too.

The ascendance of the anti-rationalist right has been a concern of mine for some time, as someone interested in USian politics from across the water (hence the Zed!); while there are some religious loons over here involved in politics, they are few and far between, and those relgious politicians in the UK tend to be involved in the established (in every sense) churches. I'd go so far as to say that a British politican who openly espoused Creationism would be roundly and soundly mocked.

That all being said, of course we have our own problems, albeit of a different variety.

Nick Barrowman said...

Hey Zeno,

Enjoying your blog as always. I do want to comment on the graph of "Incarcerated Americans 1920-2006". First two relatively minor points: (1) The horizontal scale is misleading: the last increment is from 2000 to 2006, whereas the others are 10-year increments; and (2) The U.S. population has of course increased considerably since 1920, so the per-capita increase in incarceration isn't quite as horrific as the graph suggests.

But it is still horrific. The U.S. obsession with locking people up is profoundly disturbing. Incarceration really is "the gift that keeps on giving" in terms of future costs, both financial and social.

I accept that there are legitimate questions about how society should deal with criminal behavior, and I certainly don't claim to have all the answers. But surely something has gone very wrong!

The Ridger, FCD said...

I don't the GOP allows rational commentators.