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is customary of an outgoing President, President Clinton issued his
list of pardons as he left office. 140 full pardons and 36 commuted
sentences in all. I think the time has come for us to question this
power that every lame duck President yields.
Conceptually, I do not have a problem with executive pardons. I do,
however, question that an executive can do it as he walks out the door
without ever risking any political repercussions. In a republican form
of government, this is a power that lacks the proper checks and
balances that makes our system successful.
A larger question in all this is the message it sends. Who
exactly are we setting these laws for? If we have laws, why should
they apply to some and not others? Why is who you know a determining
factor in how you serve your time? I will not kid myself into
believing that our system is pure. That somehow, justice looks upon
each of us equally. We have a perk system in Washington, always had
and probably always will.
One of the commutations that particularly irritates me is that of Mel
Reynolds. Mel Reynolds is a former Democratic Congressman from
Illinois. He is (or was) serving time for statutory rape and illegally
obtaining loans and using campaign money for personal use. This along
with the earlier pardon of former Congressman Dan Rostenkowski
I'm sorry, but to me a politician should serve a stiffer sentence than
an ordinary citizen. These are people that betray the public trust. No
one can argue that if Mel Reynolds was up under the same charges as a
bank officer he would even be considered as a candidate for a
Presidential pardon. The Chicago Sun-Times would not offer up an editorial
stating in essence that he paid his debt to society. He didn't pay his
debt to society. There are people who worked hard for him to win
office. His constituents, who live in the south suburbs of Chicago are
still living in substandard neighborhoods. The teenage campaign worker
whom he had relations with is still living with the "Lolita"
label. If you ask me, a 6½ year sentence was too short. We should
have fried him. We should have made an example out of him. Instead, he
is out of jail two years early.
Again, I think there is a place for executive pardons. There are
people who fall through the cracks in our justice system and someone
needs the power to correct this. Some of the pardons made by former
President Clinton can be argued under this set of standards, but
others are just political favors.
I think there should be some restrictions to a Presidential pardon. As
it is now, a President can pardon people on his way out and it will
end up lost on page 19 of the newspaper because all attention will be
paid to the incoming administration. I propose that a lame duck
President must execute his pardons a month prior to the election of
his possible successors. At the very least, this will give some
accountability to his actions. He must confer with his own party,
knowing that these pardons may cost his party the election. The
populace has a way to protest these actions by rejecting his party
come election day. It would allow for a check on this power.
Realistically, it won't happen. Pardons are an important power for
both parties. I don't expect them to do what is right, just what is
politically advantageous. This is how Washington works. A
Presidential pardon is one of the most powerful tools any President
has. I just wish they would use it more responsibly and not as a means
to free their unethical friends. I don't think it's too much to ask.
© The Cynic, 2001
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