Sunday, January 22, 2012

Barbour: Incredibly Stupid? Or Simply a Clumsy Liar?

Anyone who knows anything about the exercise of the pardon power, state or federal, knows that THE most common misconception about pardons has to do with their impact. More specifically, it is often thought that pardons routinely spring violent and hardened criminals straight out of prison, over-turning the considered judgement of judges and juries. This misconception is no mystery at all - at least not to any thinking person. It springs from the weight of attention given to the freakishly few pardons which very nearly fit that kind of imagery.

But, in fact, as every person who knows anything about the exercise of the pardon power, state or federal, knows, the typical pardon is given to someone who has committed a minor, non-violent crime, years (often decades ago). They have served their time (if there ever was any), taken care of all fines (if there ever were any) and the degree to which they have been law-abiding since the offense has been examined by a board, a commission or the FBI. The pardon, thus, does not spring anyone from prison. It merely restores their civil rights. the right to vote, to serve on a jury, to hold public office, to travel without restrictions, to own a hunting rifle, etc.

Now, to be sure, the average Joe may not be aware of all of this, but Haley Barbour is no average Joe. Indeed, Barbour is often acclaimed for his shrewd, savvy political acumen. Yet, he ignored the pardon power for eight years, dumps a bunch of pardon on his last day in office, then comes on Meet the Press and says:
"Sure, we could have done it better because we had no idea that the reporting of it, in particular some of the misstatements by political opponents, would let the public think we'd let some 200 people out of the penitentiary ... Most of them had been out for years and years and years."
Which is to say, we are to believe this brilliant man had no earthly idea that the most common misconception of pardons would be a significant factor in his last-minute out-the-door pardoning spree. Will Barbour next be amazed that the laws of gravity apply to him as well? What an idiot / liar (take your choice). See Meet the Press summary here


Gritsforbreakfast said...

I don't know, PS, I think you're being a little hard on Barbour for exactly the reasons described by the Boston Globe.

Bottom line: Barbour was seriously considering running for president and if he'd chosen to do so he almost certainly wouldn't have issued these pardons. Deciding to essentially retire from public service, during the short window after he made the decision not to run for Prez, he went ahead and pulled the trigger because there were no political consequences for him. And to his credit, he defended the pardon power more than most politicians under fire would do.

I know he sort of walked into the classic trap, but I think that trap has a lot less bite to it than it used to and his reasons for delaying to the end are pretty obvious. None of these appear to be political payoffs, that I know of, and he launched a discussion about the relatively low recidivism risks among murderers, the lack of recidivism among house staff released by past governors, etc..

Also, the Democrat AG pushing this is a well-known demagogue, one of Radley Balko's near-perennial nominees for "Worst Prosecutor of the Year." I think the guy has seriously politicized the situation beyond its gravity.

I owe you a CD I just remembered! Will snail mail it to you ASAP. Sorry 'bout that. :(

P.S. Ruckman, Jr. said...

EDITOR:I have certainly not ignored presidential politics in my analyses, although it is fun to make a strong case without doing so. Why couldn't Barbour have granted standard pardons (restoration of rights affairs) throughout the term and then advertised himself as a responsible governor, somewhere between the extremes of Romney and Huckabee? It seems to me that was an option as well.

I have hard time accepting the idea that his career decision making time line left him a single day, the very last day, to grant ALL of the pardons. We are not all that far from Bill Clinton and there is no governor who does not know that last minute pardon bombing is going to be attacked 9 ways before calm analysis arrives on the scene.

I stick to the guess that Barbour had no serious, systematic interest in clemency and knew he could draw a lot of attention to himself with this stunt. As a public speaker for hire and future author, it is gold for him. As for the people who continued to suffer disabilities (for God knows how long) because if his delay (in spite of the Board's positive recommendations), well, it wasn't such a positive thing.

Frankly, I haven't taken much interest in the work of the AG because, I am comfortable assuming that is, as you suggest, all sandbox politics.


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