[Starting this week, Burt’s articles will appear on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.]
When Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour pardoned a number of murderers on his last day in office, he was acting in the proud tradition of several other political hacks. There was Bill Clinton, who not only pardoned Marc Rich, a major Clinton campaign contributor who had fled America with several million stolen dollars, but Harvey Weinig, a former Manhattan lawyer who had facilitated an extortion-kidnapping scheme and helped launder over $19 million for the Cali cocaine cartel. For good measure, among the 140 pardons he granted on getaway day were 16 members of the FALN, a Puerto Rican terrorist organization that had set off 120 bombs, mainly in Chicago and New York, along with Linda Sue Evans and Susan Rosenberg, who had been loyal members of the Weather Underground.
Compared to that, Governor Michael Dukakis was small potatoes, even though his presidential chances were fortunately scuttled when the world found out that he had allowed a Massachusetts murderer, Willie Horton, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, to be granted a weekend furlough. Predictably, instead of returning to prison as promised, Horton headed south, where, in Maryland, he twice raped a woman after pistol-whipping and stabbing her fiancé.
Governor Mike Huckabee, who also believes fervently in the rehabilitation of violent criminals, has Maurice Clemmons on his conscience. Clemmons, years after being pardoned by Huckabee, killed four police officers in Washington state.
Then there was Illinois Governor George Ryan, who in his last days in Springfield commuted 160 death sentences. But in his case, he may have just been planning ahead, because not too long after, he, himself, was sentenced to 30 years for political corruption, and a guy can’t have too many friends in the pen.
That brings us back to Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who decided that he wasn’t about to take a back seat to anyone when it came to playing the Good Samaritan. So it was that he decided that just because a bunch of convicted murderers hadn’t killed any of his grandkids when he had them working around the governor’s mansion in Jackson, he would return the favor by pardoning them.
You can almost see the appeal of bestowing forgiveness on the very worst among us. It allows these boneheads to regard themselves as godlike, behaving as they expect Jesus would if only He, too, could win a statewide election.
There are two obvious flaws in this sort of thinking, and the proof of the first is that these guys generally wait until they’re all packed up and ready to leave the key under the mat. That shows that they know there will be blowback from the public, who aren’t concerned with burnishing their holier-than-thou image, but with having to worry about their families with these killers running loose. God knows it’s hard enough to arrest and convict these bastards without then having some knucklehead springing them on a whim.
The second flaw is that even though Christians are supposed to hate the sin, but love the sinner, that doesn’t mean they’re supposed to park their brains and their common sense in the deep freeze.
Back in 1999, Pope John II, while on a visit to America, decided to campaign for the commutation of Darrell Mease’s death sentence. Mease had murdered three people, including a young paraplegic, but the Pope became convinced that he had experienced a religious conversion. It would have been too much to expect Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan to stand up to him, but I had hoped that he would at least have negotiated an agreement whereby Pope John II would have taken the 53-year-old Mease back to the Vatican with him, freeing Missourians of the obligation of housing and feeding this human slug for the next 30 or 40 years.
The irony is that Mease, who was a meth user and dealer, was also a religious bigot who despised Catholics.
In conclusion, I would say that the only people who are ever entitled to forgive a criminal are God, who apparently is in the business of forgiveness, and the criminal’s victims. And in the case of murderers, their victims have been permanently silenced, and it behooves the rest of us, including their parents, friends and siblings, to respect their silence by keeping our own self-righteous yaps shut.
I say the next time some political hack feels called upon to do a good deed, let him donate a kidney.
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