Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Christmas Humbug of President Obama

Merry Christmas. Well, unless you are one of the many waiting for President Obama to grant a federal clemency or pardon petition. If so, you are likely going to find a lump of coal in your stocking.

This Christmas season President Obama granted eight pardons, the same number as granted during the last holiday season. During his administration, exercise of executive clemency power has been especially flinty.

The graph, courtesy of  P.S. Ruckman, Jr. at the blog Pardon Power, demonstrates the pardon piker our President is compared to his contemporaries. That yellow line at the bottom is President Obama. The green one just above his is President George W. Bush. Embarrassing.

As Ruckman notes, these statistics are of our more recent Presidents. President Franklin Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson's granted so many pardons the graph as configured would not be able to chart them all. .

There are explanations for the decline in the exercise of Presidential prerogative of pardon and clemency powers. The short version is politics. I attribute it, in part, to a decline in our collective sense of mercy. We call ourselves a country of second chances, but that phrase means everything and nothing at the same time. It is like a self affirming mantra that makes us feel better about ourselves, but too often in practice we minimize and rationalize our decisions not to give those chances.

The folks over at the Department of Justice have decried the inequities involved in mandatory minimums in federal sentencing for non-violent offenses. In April the DoJ announced an initiative to make it easier to seek clemency for non-violent offenders. Despite these public pronouncements, it is more of the parsimonious same this year with our President's exercise of clemency power.

Humbug was made famous in Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The word means language or behavior that is false or meant to deceive people, according to Merriam-Webster. President Obama's public face on disparity, inequity and clemency has been the very definition of humbug.

President Obama is a lame duck President. It is time to start wielding the constitutional authority given to him. Hopefully like Ebeenezer Scrooge, the President will come to realize this power radiates outward to effect more than the life of the individual given the goodwill.

Merry Christmas.

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