07 December 2009

and by the way

Probably should have mentioned this when it hit, but the Huckabee clemency issue that came up is supposed to kill his political chances. Personally I thought what killed that was when he raised his hand to the "do you not believe in the theory of evolution?" question in the Republican primaries early on, and I apparently was wrong (or at least, significantly misjudged the viability of either disinterest or direct opposition to intellectualism in Republican politics). I don't think this will either, though it will create some unusual and misleading advertising in the future.

For the present case, my best guess will be that this is a hopeful wish that he will go away so that his base of support will go to Palin instead (based on the hopeful wish that she is somehow LESS offensive than Huckabee to normal, non-GOP base voters). I don't think there's actually that big of a cross-over between those two groups for base support (despite the fact that there's very little difference in actual politics/policies and populist messaging). Perhaps I am wrong there.

As far as the actual event, the pardoning/clemancy powers of executives and parole boards, I suspect the break point on how people reacted to this issue is more based on whether they already supported the pardoning powers of executives to begin with. After the Clinton administration and during my forays into political forums, I started seeing a lot of these discussions and polls over getting rid of pardons with favorable support from conservatives. Which I guess doesn't surprise me. I am not sure why it doesn't surprise me, given that both parties tend toward tough on crime positions or strong state actors over the justice system. But I haven't yet seen what the justification is for it. It sounds like the inverse of the "executing one innocent person" with anti-capital punishment arguments, with the "releasing one guilty person" instead. I'm not persuaded that this is a flaw with our system for a variety of reasons (recidivism rates of violent offenders, which this was not such a case, and more general problems with our ability to process parolees to measurably impact recidivism of crime further). The most persuasive argument is the political manner in which pardons and clemency are sometimes granted. In this particular case, there was a parole board which reviewed the case and approved it, it sounds like it was a ridiculous sentencing with possible racial overtones to it to start with, and the parole and release which may have required some medical assistance to maintain it was handled with our typical graceful incompetence by several state officials and actors after Huckabee's decisions ever took place. So those political calculations of abuse of these powers don't carry the weight that the emotional arguments do. We don't hear anything about the cases where state leniency worked, but where it fails this spectacularly, we hear all about it.

These are not circumstances that will be dissuading people who already were hostile to these executive powers (especially since it turned out to produce several deaths). But for people who see them as necessary, as it appears that our Constitutional drafters did (a curious omission of the populist opposition of conservatives on this and many other issues), I don't think we can fault the decision.
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