This will be my first July 4th holiday in Washington, DC. Last year I was in New York City with my family, celebrating my 30th birthday (yes, I'm a bicentennial baby). So I am looking forward to seeing how the nation's capital celebrates Independence Day.
As a recent arrival, I know that my experience of Independence Day is necessarily limited. But the ideals upon which America was based and which we celebrate tomorrow are common to many around the world, no matter where they call home. The American dream--to make a better life for yourself and to pursue whatever brand of happiness to which you aspire--is the human dream. As David Boaz notes in his podcast (mp3) today, the line of people at the immigration centers of American embassies is larger than the line of picketers outside, no matter how harsh the criticisms of the rest of the world can seem.
The government and the country are not the same thing. So for all those who have taken offense at a foreigner criticising U.S. farm and trade policy over the last year, please know that I will be celebrating a wonderful country tomorrow, along with all of you.
You could make a case either way on the Scooter Libby commutation. On the one hand, the jury found that Libby had perjured himself and obstructed justice--the sorts of offenses that Republicans thought were serious as recently as, oh, 1999. On the other hand, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald wasn't able to charge anyone with the underlying crime (leaking CIA agent Valerie Plame's name), so the prosecution had a bogus Martha-Stewart-case aspect to it.
What you cannot do--at least with a straight face--is argue that of the over 160,000 federal prisoners and thousands more awaiting sentencing, Scooter Libby was the most deserving of clemency.
As the Sentencing Project reports [.pdf], "Nearly three-fourths (72.1%) of the [federal prison] population are non-violent offenders with no history of violence." Some of them, like Weldon Angelos and others on the FAMM list David Boaz links to below, fell victim to the federal jihad against drugs (55 percent of federal prisoners are serving time for drug offenses). Others, like David Henson McNab (who has filed a clemency petition with the president, to no avail) fell victim to the prosecutorial zeal combined with the increasingly bewildering array of federal crimes that make a mockery of the rule of law.
The pardon power is one that unquestionably makes the president the sole "decider." It does so in part, as Hamilton explains in Federalist 74, because without room for mercy, "justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel." Yet President Bush has shown little interest in wielding this power. His 113 clemency actions thus far place him below all two-term presidents save George Washington, who, in fairness, didn't have a lot federal crimes to work with.
The Libby commutation isn't anywhere near the worst abuse of the pardon power in American history. James Hoffa, Richard Nixon, the FALN terrorists--all stink worse than the president's action yesterday. But that doesn't mean the Libby commutation smells good. "Compassionate conservatism" is a notably mushy and amorphous concept. Yet we now have a better idea of what it means in the criminal justice context: something like, "Prison? That's not for our people!"
Richard Cohen of the Washington Post has a great piece today on the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the Democratic Party-line on education. Here’s a taste:
The litany of more and more when it comes to money often has little to do with what, in the military, are called facts on the ground: kids and parents. It does have a lot to do with teachers unions, which are strong supporters of the Democratic Party. Not a single candidate offered anything remotely close to a call for real reform. Instead, a member of the audience could reasonably conclude that if only more money was allocated to these woe-is-me school systems, things would right themselves overnight.
He rightly lambastes them for offering more money as their only solution . . . if $16,000 in DC is not enough, what is?
And he is correct to focus on the important role that parents play in a child’s education.
But it’s disappointing that Cohen neglects to mention the one and only solution that actually allows parents to take charge of their child’s education: school choice.
The education-industrial complex, Big Ed, controls the system and places a brick wall of government-school bureaucracy in the way of parents who want to be involved. Cohen’s and Obama’s call for more parental involvement ring just a wee bit hollow when the government education system is specifically designed to exclude the voices of parents and taxpayers and to dance only to Big Ed’s tune.
School choice empowers parents, encouraging their involvement in education and making certain that their voices will be heard.
Cohen would do well to follow his great criticism of the absence of real solutions among the Democratic presidential nominees with an explanation of the only real solution left.
So says Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.) of President Bush in Sunday's Washington Post.
Conaway, a "longtime friend who once worked for Bush," meant this as a compliment, and it is -- to a point. Even though I am a historian, I am willing to put the study of history into perspective. Sticking with the metaphor, I don't drive down the highway with tape over my windshield. When you're moving forward, you need to keep your eyes on the road.
But my driving instructor also told me to at least glance in that rearview mirror from time to time. And it is the president's unwillingness to ask hard questions about his past decisions that so undermines his ability to fashion effective policy.
This story hearkens back to a widely-cited article by Ron Suskind, published just before the 2004 election, and particularly to a quote maddeningly attributed to a "senior adviser" to Bush. Suskind writes:
The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
George W. Bush will leave office on January 20, 2009. He'll be creating his own reality for 567 more days. And there doesn’t appear to be anything that anyone, particularly those of us who “study…how things will sort out,” can do about it.
President Bush has pushed the envelope of every aspect of executive power, except for two that might ease the burden of government, the veto and the pardon. Now he's threatening to protect the taxpayers with his veto pen, and he's just discovered his power to pardon or commute the sentences of people convicted of crimes. Whether Scooter Libby was an appropriate recipient of a commutation is subject to much debate.
But there are plenty of other people who deserve presidential pardons or commutations. Families Against Mandatory Minimums has highlighted a number of good cases here:
Mandy Martinson -- 15 years for helping her boyfriend count his drug-dealing money.
DeJarion Echols -- 20 years for selling a small amount of crack and owning a gun, causing Reagan-appointed federal judge Walter S. Smith, Jr. to say, “This is one of those situations where I’d like to see a congressman sitting before me.”
Weldon Angelos -- 55 years for minor marijuana and gun charges, causing the George W. Bush-appointed judge Paul Cassell, previously best known for pressing the courts to overturn the Miranda decision, to call the mandatory sentence in this case "unjust, cruel, and even irrational."
Anthea Harris -- 15 years when members of her husband's drug ring received sentence reductions to testify against her, although she had not been directly involved in the business.
A compassionate conservative should also use the pardon power to head off the DEA's war against doctors who help patients alleviate pain. He could start by pardoning Dr. Ronald McIver, sentenced to 30 years for prescribing Oxycontin and other drugs to patients in severe pain. Or Dr. William Hurwitz of Virginia, sentenced to 25 years but then granted a retrial, convicted again, and awaiting sentencing, which could still be 10 years.
Commute these sentences, Mr. President.
Last week, Cato adjunct scholar, Richard Epstein, took Justice Antonin Scalia to task on the legal doctrine of "taxpayer standing" in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. The gentlemen have been debating the role of judiciary for more than 20 years. Cato published an exchange between the two following their debate at a 1984 Cato conference. Good stuff.
Just in time for primary season comes a new novel by Al Gore's daughter about a Southern governor's scandalous behavior in the White House, and the terrible embarrassment he causes the loyal and deeply honorable senator who becomes his vice president, and the paranoid and plastic First Lady. Meow.