Friday, April 1, 2016

Obama and the Previous Six Presidents: The Real Scoop

When it comes to self-promotion via data on clemency, the Obama administration has often been in the league of a cheaply produced late-night television commercial. When relatively large numbers of commutations of sentence have been granted, the White House seems to have no idea how to put them into any kind of historical context - except in embarrassing ways. Reporters then follow suit, "It is the largest number of commutations of sentence granted in a single day in recent memory ..." or, the classic, "unprecedented in recent memory." Pathetic.

Recall, in July of 2015, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest suggested Obama's record on commutations was "bold." To make his point, he compared the President's total for commutations (89) to that of the four previous presidents - well known, for having a freakish disregard for the use of the pardon power. Mr. Earnest failed to point out the fact that those presidents, did grant 88 commutations of sentence. So, President Obama, after 6 and 1/2 years had "beaten" them by a grand total of one. Now that is cheesy. Secondly, none of the previous four presidents received nearly as many applications for commutations of sentence as Obama (see chart below). If you combined their numbers - as Mr. Earnest was want to do - what you saw was that Obama had received a thousand plus more applications than all of them combined and the result has been slightly (1) more commutations of sentence. "Bold"? We think not.

Now, the administration is back at it again, comparing Obama's record on commutations of sentence to the previous six presidents. It is being spit out everywhere. He has granted more commutation of sentence than the previous six presidents combined. Amazing! 

We offer the following data: the number of clemency grants by the previous six presidents (pardons and commutations of sentence) and the number of applications in comparison with the Obama administration. Put simply, they had many fewer chances to exercise clemency, to show they really cared, to give people second chances in life ... and they did so more often. So, let's keep the "mission accomplished" banner folded up a bit more, shall we?

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