Sunday, December 7, 2008

Bush in Context

We have discussed the seemingly irresistible tendency of the media to describe things as "unprecedented" or at "record levels" - which is fine. We all love a good sales pitch and a show. But the current line on Bush's use of the pardon power is worth some scrutiny.

Thanks to me, we all know that Bush has not set the record for fewest pardons, either as a president or a two-term president. Even DOJ data tell us enough to know that he is not the most stingy president since the early 1900s. The result? Media reports like this (I provide no particular reference, because they are everywhere): "Bush has granted fewer pardons than any modern president with the exception of his father, George H.W. Bush." PardonPower does not dispute this fact, but would prefer to add some siding.

If you look at the number of presidential pardons by term, it is clear that only two other terms were lower than George W. Bush's first - the first and second terms of George Washington. Frankly, that is where the big news opportunity was. However, Bush's second term features a higher number of pardons and commutations that can be seen in 12 other terms - including George Washington's first and second term, John Adams' term, Jefferson's first and second terms, Madison's first and second terms, Franklin Pierce's term, Ronald Reagan's second term, George H.W. Bush's term, Clinton's first term and, of course, George W. Bush's own first term. That is to say, there is nice mix of modern and not so modern terms. Has Bush been sparing/careful/stingy in his use of the power? To be sure. But let's not get carried away now. And the term is not over yet!

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