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Friday, March 9, 2007

The Problem With Pardons

The usual suspects of right wing lie machine have whipped themselves itself into an absolute frenzy over the case of Scooter Libby. The cretins at the National Review are practically having fisticuffs over who can present less credible arguments for pardon, as well as continue the slander of the Wilsons that got Scooter in trouble in the first place. Rush Limbaugh called it a "travesty" and declared that "Republicans are just not ruthless. Conservatives are not ruthless in many cases" (I'm sure that gave Mr. Rove a little comic relief while he works frantically to bail the sinking ship). Fred Barnes, the Weekly Standard editor speaking on-where else?-Fox News declared that Bush should pardon Scooter Libby because “he didn’t really seriously impede the investigation,” and “he’s been a loyal and effective member of this administration” (Yeeeeah...H.R. Haldeman was a real company man, too). Even a few jurors are shedding tears over poor ol' Scooter, feeling like he was "a really nice guy" and asking "Where was Rove and these other guys?"
These can all be easily dismissed as the howlings of wounded ideologues amusingly indignant that their felonious cronies have suddenly been called to account after so many years of getting away with murder. Watching them squirm would be entertaining if the road to their comeuppance weren't so bloody. What can be dismissed less easily, though, is the real possibility that George Bush may actually pardon his henchman (love what Randi Rhodes likened the possibility to-"Like Tony Soprano offering a pardon to Paulie Walnuts!") Clearly this is not good news for progressives, and not for the reasons one might think. The fact is, the most high-level presidential pardons in recent memory have not had good long term outcomes for the US.
We all remember when Gerald Ford died a few months ago, there was sort of a false kumbya that fell over the land, a collective nostalgia-induced amnesia over the effects of his pardon of Richard Nixon ("Gee, Myrtle, remember when the worse things Republicans did was break into Democratic offices and then lie about it? When we all thought John Dean was a scumbag? Ahh, those were the days!") Although I was too young at the time of the pardon to have formed an opinion on the spot, over time I have come to view it as a grave disservice to the justice system and the accountability to the American people. Ford said he decided on a pardon because the result of an investigation would only be that "ugly passions would again be aroused. And our people would again be polarized in their opinions. And the credibility of our free institutions of government would again be challenged at home and abroad" (as of 2007, it's clear that merely pardoning Nixon was NOT the key to ensuring THAT set of circumstances never happened again). In giving the reprehensible Nixon a free pass, Ford achieved his goal of ensuring that the remainder of the '70s were less politically tense, but also obfuscated the facts, may have let other guilty parties off the hook, and set a terrible precedent that said a lying, polarizing president could not be held to account because we as Americans couldn't take it. Had Ford manned up and did what had to be done to restore the country's faith in their leaders back then, we might not now be presented with the disasterous term of Dick Cheney, a man for whom all roads run to the White House and none out. Cheney, a man who believes in the absolute power of the presidential office, learned that day in 1974 that a president could pretty much do whatever the hell he wanted and suffer no legal consequences. If the sight of Nixon being held up to scrutiny for what Cheney undoubtedly felt was unwarranted obstruction of the president's perogative was a bitter view, the sound of the Pardon Proclamation was sweet music to his imperialist ears. If Nixon had been held to account, there is no doubt in my mind that we would not have seen the deadly phoenix named George Bush rising from the remnant ashes of the first imperial presidency. And you know what's most infuraiting about the whole deal? The spineless of our own party around this issue. By taking impeachment "off the table," Nancy Pelosi has fallen into the same trap as Gerald Ford. Getting along is still more important than learning the truth. Somewhere in the administration, an ambitious 30-year-old aide is taking note of this fact.
The other high profile case in recent times is the pardon of six conspirators in the ugly Iran-Contra scandal. While the consequences were not as far-reaching as that of Nixon's pardon, it proved that just about any egregious act can be committed in the name of "patriotism"-"whether their actions were right or wrong" in Bush Sr's own words-and that the commission and investigation of felonies can be dismissed as "policy differences." (Sound familiar? If so, you must have just read Mona Charen's article in the NRO. These guys are great at recycling arguments that are sometimes decades old). But mostly, it gave new life to right-wing ideology after it's staunchest proponents received their "Get Out of Jail Free" cards. Most egregious is the infamous case of Elliott Abrams, convicted of withholding infromation from Congress, laughably appointed in 2001 in charge of democracy and human rights at the NSC, and in 2005 became the Deputy National Security Advisor. Bush Sr proved to Bush Jr that if your politics are in line, you can escape criminal culpability. It all comes full circle when you realize this slap in the face of accountability occurred partially because of the veneer of untouchability George Bush assumed because of the Nixon pardon.
No matter how sorry you may feel for the bind Scooter Libby finds himself in, no one should assume that he deserves a pardon because he's only fourth or fifth in the line of guilt in this case-a fall guy. Republican pardons ALWAYS have far-reaching effects, and are ALWAYS bad for the long term interests of progressives. The public should bring all manner of pressure to bear on this administration to ensure another reprehensible conservative hack does not go free, only to come back and bite us-if only spiritually-years later.

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