Politics & Policy

The agony of pardons, &c.

I feel nothing but sympathy for President Bush on this matter of a pardon — a pardon for Lewis Libby. They are a delicate, even wrenching business, pardons. On one hand, they look like cheating: The judicial process has done its thing and the executive comes and says, “No, I don’t think so — your result is wrong. I’m going to rule the other way. I’m going to reverse what you-all have done. Thank you, and have a nice day.”

This seems most undemocratic. It is an eye-popping exercise of power. The temptation to right a wrong — or what we think is a wrong — is very great.

Just think of presidential elections: Your guy, Smith, doesn’t win. You want to wave a hand and say, “Nope, for the good of the country, it must be Smith, not Jones. Therefore, I overrule you, dear people. I assure you it’s for the best.”

Moreover, a cloud hangs over the person who is pardoned. (Reagan used to note this.) The pardonee looks like a person who has escaped justice — to whom a special favor, by a friend in a very high place, has been done.

And yet: Pardons can be very much the right thing to do, as I thought in the case of Cap Weinberger — and as I think in the case of Lewis Libby. That was a travesty, on virtually every level you can think of.

I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to respect the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald. And I once indeed respected him, even as I questioned his actions. He persists in pretending that Libby has been caught in some great crime of policy and war. In reality, he has been caught in a game of process, memory, grays.

Again, I feel nothing but sympathy for President Bush. He has been placed in a terrible predicament (though less terrible than the one in which Libby has been placed). I would pardon Libby. But I imagine I would have a queasy feeling while doing so, and perhaps a bitter taste in my mouth.

I don’t think it possible to lay down strict rules, or even guidelines, for presidential pardons. I don’t believe it is possible to write a manual entitled, “When and Why a President Must Pardon.” I often quote the late Abe Rosenthal, who, when asked how he edited the New York Times, answered, “With my stomach.”

That, I believe, is the organ that must govern pardons. And, yes, they are a delicate, sometimes wrenching business.

‐Now and then, I walk along the Hudson River in New York, and I pass a most unpleasant — indeed, disgusting — sight: the Chinese Communist flag, flapping in the wind, with its red, nasty self. This abhorrent symbol befouls the air because the Chinese consulate is there, near the river, on the West Side Highway. But there is a better sight: that of Falun Gong practitioners, silently protesting.

They are free to protest in the United States, but not, of course, in China, where they are subject to imprisonment, torture, and murder. And barely a person in all the world gives a damn.

I sometimes think of the self-styled “realists,” who are scared to death that Americans will care too much about the suffering and subjugation of others. I don’t think there is any such danger. I think the “realists” can rest easy — Americans aren’t about to do anything about genocide in Sudan, or atrocities anywhere else. The president’s second inaugural address is not about to seize hold of people. The Falun Gong folks are, if anything, a nuisance, spoiling the atmosphere of the latest trade deal.

No, the “realists” need not worry. They can rest secure in their beds, even if others cannot.

‐As I have written often — and probably vainly — Che Guevara was a murderer and monster, in the classic totalitarian mold. If only Beria had taken such a lovely photo. In his fortress, La Cabaña, Guevara loved to soak his wall — El Paredón — red. The blood was that of “counterrevolutionaries,” who often declared their allegiance to Christ as they were murdered. Filling out his résumé, Guevara was the father of the Cuban gulag.

(You can catch a glimpse of this in the movie Before Night Falls, which is about the homosexual poet Reinaldo Arenas. Also, Armando Valladares’s memoir, Against All Hope, is a must.)

But the world loves Guevara — its “Che” — or certainly his iconic image. Che chic will be with us forever, it seems. (In 2004, I wrote a National Review piece on this subject, which you can find here.)

The other day, a reader sent me a photo of the British prince, Harry, wearing a Che T-shirt. If there is any comfort, it is that Harry is merely ignorant, miseducated, lied to, like millions of others. The nature of Communism, and of Cuban Communism in particular, has been almost a secret in the West for decades.

Still, it is sickening to see that monstrous face, on the torso of a young man who represents a beacon of liberty and truth in the world.

‐You may remember that Harry once wore a Nazi armband. (An infamous photo.) Then, people reacted with astonishment and outrage. But about Harry’s latest garb . . . well, as I said, the world loves its “Che.” (Incidentally, the best essay I know on the reputation of Communism, versus the reputation of Nazism, is by Paul Hollander. It was originally published in National Review. And you can find it in his collection Discontents: Postmodern and Postcommunist.)

‐John Edwards is a prince of the Democratic party, that party’s vice-presidential nominee last time around, and a contender for president this time around. Have you been following his words, policies, and actions? Last week, he had this to say: “Today, as a result of what George Bush has done, we have more terrorists and fewer allies. There was no group called al Qaeda in Iraq before this president’s war in Iraq.”

Yes, it’s true there was no group called al Qaeda in Iraq — instead, al Qaeda was in New York, Washington, and elsewhere. And the cowboy from Texas did not invent the Qaeda threat.

As for fewer allies: Which allies have been subtracted? And have there been any added? Does Edwards believe in what his running-mate John Kerry called “the global test,” which the U.S. must pass before acting?

Also, consider the phrase “this president’s war in Iraq.” Is that the way would-be presidents should talk? Does Edwards have the judgment and breadth — or even the simple class — to be president?

Furthermore, Edwards said this: “If Mayor Giuliani believes that what the president has done is good . . . and runs a campaign for the presidency saying ‘I will give you four more years of what this president has done,’ he’s allowed to do that. He will never be elected president, but he is allowed to do that.”

He is allowed to do that. Why, thank you, Mr. Edwards. What a snippy, prissy little . . . candidate.

The quotes I have cited come from a news story, here. And if a man who talks and acts as John Edwards does can be elected president, America may be as far gone as its worst critics say.

‐In his campaign, Edwards has been laying great stress on poverty — the poverty that afflicts this country. It seems to me that he has a fundamental misunderstanding. America’s problems are not material — this is an extraordinarily rich country.

I often quote the man from Calcutta, who, many years ago, expressed a desire to come to America. Why? “I want to see a place where the poor people are fat.”

Indeed, obesity is a significant problem among the poor (the American poor). Is that a first in human history? For millennia, human beings have struggled to get enough sustenance to make it to tomorrow. Now, obesity is a problem among our poor.

Not infrequently, the poor in America have air conditioning, and cars, and cellphones, and microwaves — and houses. No, America’s chief problems are not material. They are mental, attitudinal — spiritual, if you will. This is the subject of many and long books.

Please don’t mistake me: Poverty exists in our society, for it is a human society, populated by human beings. But people elsewhere in the world would laugh to hear that our problems are material. “If only we had such problems!” they would surely say.

‐A couple of additional words on presidential politics: I was talking to a friend the other day, about Obama’s campaign, and Hillary’s. There is a deep desire, on the part of many, to see a black president, or a woman president. (More the former, I believe.)

And what occurred to me is this: I long thought that the first black president would be a conservative Republican. Similarly, I thought that the first woman president would be a conservative Republican — an American Thatcher.

Now, of course, I’m far less sure. Obama and Hillary are distinct possibilities.

One more observation, in this parlor game? I have sort of assumed that the first Jewish president would be right-leaning and religious — not a secular liberal. But I am less certain on this front, too.

Anyway . . .

‐The briefest of comments on Paris Hilton: I realize she is no poster child. (Well, it depends on the kind of poster.) Still, does it not reveal something unattractive about America that so many are eager to see her humiliated, brought low?

‐Saw a headline from the AP (here): “Judge Puts Freeze on Jefferson’s Assets.”

Of course, Representative Jefferson was the guy who put his lucre — the cash — in the freezer. I doubt the joke of “Freeze” was intended by the headline-writer — but still! Nice!

‐Care to end on some music? I mean, not some music, but some pieces published in the New York Sun? For a review of the Emerson String Quartet, go here. For a review of the New York Philharmonic, under Lorin Maazel, go here. For a piece on a master class conducted by Yefim Bronfman, the pianist, go here. And for a review of the latest Lang Lang recording, go here.

That should more than hold you. And I’ll see you soon!


The Latest