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Opening Arguments


This is something I won't fault President Obama for:

“With the power vested in me, I grant Popcorn full reprieve from a future of stuffing and cranberry sauce.” — President Obama, Wednesday

AT LEAST MR. OBAMA is aware that he possesses the power of clemency. Unpardonably, though, with the exception of the silly Thanksgiving ritual in which he spares a turkey by executive order, he virtually never discusses this prerogative, and he rarely uses it. In fact, no modern president comes close to Mr. Obama in meting out mercy so rarely and so stingily.

In his first term in office, Ronald Reagan signed 250 pardons for federal inmates; George H.W. Bush authorized 77 and Bill Clinton, 56. Mr. Obama granted just 23. (Including more granted this spring, his total is now up to 39.) According to an analysis by ProPublica, which studied applications for pardons processed by the Justice Department, Mr. Obama has granted clemency to just 2 percent of applicants. By contrast, Mr. Reagan pardoned about a third of such applicants; Mr. Clinton 12 percent; and the elder George Bush about 7 percent. Even George W. Bush, a Texan who took his tough-on-crime credentials seriously, extended pardons at a rate slightly higher than Mr. Obama. (Mr. Obama also has ignored his power to grant commutations of sentences — typically shortening them to time served; he has commuted just one since taking office.)

That's excerpted from an editorial in the very liberal Washington Post, so it displays an understandably forgiving attitude. If you don't think most people should really pay for their crimes in the first place, pardoning them is a logical second-best option.

But a too-free use of the pardon undermines the whole criminal justice structure almost as much as a too-lenient attitude in the original sentences. Certainly some pardons are deserved -- when there is an obvious miscarriage of justice, for example, such as an innocent wrongly convicted or someone who's guilty but received a sentence far harsher than the crime called for. Except for those cases, however, what good reason for a pardon is there? I think Obama's stinginess should be applauded, not Reagan's extravagance.