Saturday, February 9, 2008

The President: Back in Texas

In a New York Times book review (here), Michael Lind writes about Michael Gerson's new book Heroic Conservatism and says:
Gerson writes of his victory in persuading Bush to “encourage more training for defense lawyers in death-penalty cases” without mentioning that Bush presided over 152 executions as governor of Texas, more than any other governor in modern history, issuing only one commutation (in a case of clear innocence) and no pardons. Gerson says “it is impossible to imagine Bush attacking ‘welfare queens,’ as Reagan did. Governor Bush uniformly talked about the poor, addicts and even illegal immigrants in sympathetic ways.” The journalist Tucker Carlson's chilling description of then-Governor Bush’s mocking imitation of one death row inmate, Karla Faye Tucker, whom Bush refused to pardon despite the pleas of, among others, the Pope and the Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson is hard to square with Gerson’s portrait of a compassionate conservative.
I'll give Lind the benefit of the doubt and assume that he meant to write that Bush, as governor, pardoned no one on death row. And I am guessing that very few people are pardoned from death row by any governor anywhere. Otherwise, the analysis is quite flawed. Just ask the woman Bush pardoned who stole a pair of earrings, or the man he pardoned who stole a six-pack of beer after throwing a brick through a convenience store window. Bush also pardoned a woman who was caught stealing a Christmas wreath in 1990.

Lind could have noted that the Fort-Worth Star Telegram found one of Bush’s pardon recipients was from a family of generous contributors to the Republican Party. Democratic San Antonio legislator Ruth Jones McClendon also accused Bush of racism and called for an investigation because he had not pardoned any African Americans and only one Hispanic. Bush responded to Representative McClendon’s suggestion that his form of justice was not “colorblind” by pointing out the fact that he had “no idea” what the race was of any of the persons that he had pardoned.

By January of 2000, the Texas news media began to notice Governor Bush had rejected well over three hundred applications since 1995 and pardoned only sixteen people, the lowest number for any Texas governor in fifty years. Bush’s communications director, Karen Hughes, explained to members of the media that the Governor’s “general philosophy” was such that he was “not inclined to grant pardons.” Bush added that, although he did not intend to pardon individuals guilty of violent crimes, he had “nothing against” the pardoning power per se. He was simply not “aggressive on it.” At other times, Bush explained that he had learned to be more careful after granting a pardon to one Steven Raney. Raney had been convicted for possession of a marihuana plant in 1988 and Bush pardoned him 1995. Raney was later caught stealing cocaine from a drug bust while working as a constable in Ellis County.

As forty-third president of the United States, Bush had barely been in office a week before he announced that the pardon power was “an important part” of the office. The announcement, however, was in response to questions about President Clinton’s “last-minute” pardon controversy. Bush told members of the news media that he was particularly “troubled” by Clinton’s decision to pardon Marc Rich, but called the pardoning power “inviolate.”

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