Friday, January 23, 2009

The Stunning Number of 11th Hour Bush Pardons


Say what you will about Obama's predecessor---and there's much one can say---but George W. Bush exited office with a bit more class than Bill Clinton did, who famously pardoned 140 people on his last day in the Oval Office...many of which were controversial (to say the least). It's not that the power to pardon people is an inherently bad one, but it is one which should be used cautiously and judiciously, and it certainly should never be used to repay political favors or reward those who have access to the President (I'm talking to you, Bill). In his eight years in office, Bush issued 189 pardons and commuted 11 sentences, easily one of the most conservative displays of this presidential power in the modern era. Clinton, by comparison, issued a total of 456 pardons/commutations, and Reagan just over 400.

The cynic might argue that the low number of pardons issued by Bush is simply another indication of his lazy approach to governing---too disengaged to take on the important task of reviewing the many petitions for clemency that cross his desk. This may be true, but unlike the presidents that came before him, little to no serious controversy has been generated by the pardons he did issue over his eight years in office. More significantly, there was no pardon for Scooter Libby (though he did commute his sentence earlier). There was no preemptive pardon to protect Alberto Gonzalez. There were no pardons issued to protect anyone on his staff---past or present.

Critics of Bush have plenty of grist for the mill, and his legacy will no doubt be one of the least attractive for any president in our history, but it's still important to separate his good deeds from his bad ones, and his use of the presidential pardon---particularly his avoidance of 11th hour pardons which tend to get less public scrutiny---is a model for future presidents.


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