Politics & Policy

Unpardonable Reform

Yes, Bill Clinton was corrupt. Get over it.

Remember the Fort Worth church shootings? In 1999 a lone gunman marched into a church and shot eight worshippers to death.

Democrats and liberal pundits thought that the incident might prove to be a huge vulnerability for George W. Bush. You see, the Texas governor had signed a law permitting people to take guns into churches. If only Bush had made it illegal for folks to carry a concealed weapon into a church, those eight people might be alive today.

Surely the gunman would have turned around and gone home had he seen a sign saying guns were prohibited on the premises. All the laws of God and man that forbid murder — in a Church, no less — are nothing compared to one, sharply worded gun-control law.

This is the folly of reformers and we see it everywhere.

Now Bill Clinton hasn’t murdered anybody — testimony offered in various conspiratorial e-mails and by aspirin-factory workers notwithstanding (please, cut me some slack and don’t send me any e-mail about this assertion).

But Clinton has gotten away with murder — metaphorically speaking. It is now beyond dispute among intelligent people that Bill Clinton did not fairly weigh the merits — and the merits alone — when he issued his slew of pardons and reprieves. Of course, I await Clinton’s New York Times op-ed explaining why a guy found with 800 pounds of coke in his trunk deserved clemency. If Bill can pull that off, I will take back everything I ever said about him.

In the meantime, let’s keep looking into what happened. Sure, Clinton’s cronies will in all likelihood dodge and evade like the gopher in Caddyshack. They will burrow into the Fifth Amendment, executive privilege, popular fatigue, and, who knows, maybe a few more will flee the country like in the old days. Anything’s possible.

But let’s be clear about a couple things. First, Bill’s not going to be arrested, impeached, or paddled in the town square. It’s not going to happen, even if it should. Second, if forced to choose between throwing Hugh Rodham into prison — where he could get on a good exercise regimen — or getting to the truth, the goal should be getting to the truth. Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, can launch whatever investigations she wants — though she was hardly Janey-on-the-spot when Bill was her boss — but she shouldn’t get in the way of finding out what happened.

Why so? Because the culture needs to see Clinton exposed and the history books need to record it as a cautionary tale for future presidents.

Meanwhile, all of this talk about reversing the pardons on some technicality is both absurd and a rotten idea. The president has the power to pardon people; case closed. He should be able to pardon people by waving his hand like a priest offering a blessing. The fact that he may not have dotted an “i” or crossed a “t” should be meaningless.

I like the pardon power precisely because it is undemocratic. I like the pardon power because it is extra-judicial. I don’t want to live in a monarchy, but that doesn’t mean every monarchical holdover is necessarily a bad idea. Having some kind of release valve for instances where the greater good is served, even if the popular will and legal rulings are defied, makes a great deal of sense to me.

More importantly, any talk about a constitutional amendment should stop now. There are lots of reasons why a constitutional amendment is a bad idea, but the only salient one has to do with the folly of reformers.

That Bill Clinton was corrupt is beyond dispute. The only legitimate arguments are about the extent and nature of his corruption. His defenders say he bent a few rules, made a little love, did a little dance, got down tonight. Or something like that. On the other side, well, the sky’s the limit in terms of things reasonable and unreasonable people alike can point to as corrupt, the latest being these pardons.

Now Arlen Specter thinks he must craft a clever solution that will keep all this from happening again. This, of course, is to be expected. He’s the guy who, borrowing a line from So I Murdered An Axe Murderer, concluded that, “if it’s not Scottish, it’s crap!” and invoked some completely random highland law normally associated, no doubt, with sheep stealing. He also was the guy who came up with the “magic-bullet theory” after the Kennedy assassination. ‘Nuf said.

But come on. If we are going to start assuming that every president from now on is going to behave like Bill Clinton we’ll have really defined deviancy down. Worse, his “everybody does it” arguments will have turned prophetic. But most importantly, if all future presidents turn out to be like Bill Clinton, we’re screwed anyway, and no reforms will change that.

Does anyone really think that if the campaign-finance laws had been just a bit more ingeniously designed, that Bill Clinton wouldn’t have reaped all that sweet, sweet, Chinese shmundo?

When people set forth intending to break the laws — or bend them beyond recognition — the last thing that will help is a “better” law. It’s true for gun control and it’s true for the president of the United States.


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