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No Excuses for Some Pardons

The Cynic


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As is customary of an outgoing President, President Clinton issued his list of pardons as he left office. 140 full pardons and 36 commuted sentences in all. I think the time has come for us to question this power that every lame duck President yields.

Conceptually, I do not have a problem with executive pardons. I do, however, question that an executive can do it as he walks out the door without ever risking any political repercussions. In a republican form of government, this is a power that lacks the proper checks and balances that makes our system successful.

A larger question in all this is the message it sends.  Who exactly are we setting these laws for? If we have laws, why should they apply to some and not others? Why is who you know a determining factor in how you serve your time? I will not kid myself into believing that our system is pure. That somehow, justice looks upon each of us equally. We have a perk system in Washington, always had and probably always will.

One of the commutations that particularly irritates me is that of Mel Reynolds. Mel Reynolds is a former Democratic Congressman from Illinois. He is (or was) serving time for statutory rape and illegally obtaining loans and using campaign money for personal use. This along with the earlier pardon of former Congressman Dan
Rostenkowski irritates me.

I'm sorry, but to me a politician should serve a stiffer sentence than an ordinary citizen. These are people that betray the public trust. No one can argue that if Mel Reynolds was up under the same charges as a bank officer he would even be considered as a candidate for a Presidential pardon. The Chicago Sun-Times would not offer up an editorial stating in essence that he paid his debt to society. He didn't pay his debt to society. There are people who worked hard for him to win office. His constituents, who live in the south suburbs of Chicago are still living in substandard neighborhoods. The teenage campaign worker whom he had relations with is still living with the "Lolita" label. If you ask me, a 6 year sentence was too short. We should have fried him. We should have made an example out of him. Instead, he is out of jail two years early.

Again, I think there is a place for executive pardons. There are people who fall through the cracks in our justice system and someone needs the power to correct this. Some of the pardons made by former President Clinton can be argued under this set of standards, but others are just political favors.

I think there should be some restrictions to a Presidential pardon. As it is now, a President can pardon people on his way out and it will end up lost on page 19 of the newspaper because all attention will be paid to the incoming administration. I propose that a lame duck President must execute his pardons a month prior to the election of his possible successors.  At the very least, this will give some accountability to his actions. He must confer with his own party, knowing that these pardons may cost his party the election. The populace has a way to protest these actions by rejecting his party come election day. It would allow for a check on this power.

Realistically, it won't happen. Pardons are an important power for both parties. I don't expect them to do what is right, just what is politically advantageous.  This is how Washington works. A Presidential pardon is one of the most powerful tools any President has. I just wish they would use it more responsibly and not as a means to free their unethical friends. I don't think it's too much to ask.

The Cynic, 2024

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