The media coverage of the Clinton pardons has been so biased,
overblown and vituperative as to call into question the very purpose of
what currently passes as journalism. It is difficult to recall a more
partisan, one-sided hatchet job.
Surely, even the faintest sense of fairness would compel a comparison
of former President Clinton's actions with that of his predecessors and,
as Rep. Henry Waxman pointed out at a recent hearing to a largely
indifferent Washington press corps, Republican Presidents have more than
matched the outrages of Clinton.
Forget Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard M. Nixon, which, while
effectively short-circuiting an ongoing probe of possibly the most
egregious behavior of any US President, can be rationalized as a
healing gesture. Nixon had accomplished much, and he was by then a broken
man. We can also overlook Ronald Reagan's pardon of Yankee owner George
Steinbrenner, who had pleaded guilty to violating election laws.
But unforgivable is what former President George Bush did. He
protected himself--a former Reagan Administration official--in an ongoing
investigation when he pardoned Reagan's Defense secretary, Casper
Weinberger, and the rest of the Iran/contra gang of six.
At the time, Independent Counsel Lawrence E. Walsh bitterly charged
that "the Iran/contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six
years, has now been completed"--by presidential fiat. Walsh called it
"evidence of a conspiracy among the highest-ranking Reagan Administration
officials to lie to Congress and the American public" and said that, "in
light of President Bush's own misconduct," he was "gravely concerned"
about Bush's decision to pardon others.
Bush could easily have been said to have covered up his own potential
culpability--far short of anything Clinton has been accused of doing in
his pardon of Marc Rich or anyone else. Nor did the Bush Iran/contra
pardons pass the one-more-pardon-before-leaving-the-White-House "smell
test" so liberally applied to Clinton's pardons; the pardon came after
intensive lobbying by former Reagan aides and many last-minute White
As for pardoning drug dealers, so upsetting when ordered by Clinton,
again why no comparison with Bush's similar and arguably more offensive
pardon of that nature? Bush's pardon of Aslam Adam, a Pakistani heroin
trafficker serving a fifty-five-year sentence, would seem more startling than
Clinton's pardon of an LA Latino from a sentence one-fifth as long.
And, OK, let's talk about Marc Rich. Let's compare his pardon to that
of another financier, Armand Hammer. If Rich bought his pardon, he at
least felt the need to employ the precaution of funneling a contribution
through his ex-wife, as some charge. Hammer was considerably more
blatant. Not only had he pleaded guilty to the charge of making illegal
campaign contributions but also, when pardoned from that offense by Bush,
he forked over two gifts of $100,000 to the GOP as well as to Bush's
Those represented fresh contributions to an incoming administration
that could continue to bestow favors--not, as with Clinton, to a
soon-to-be ex-President's library. But if it is library contributions
that now so fascinate, why did House Government Reform Committee Chairman
Dan Burton turn down ranking Democrat Waxman's request that the records
of contributions to Republican Presidents' libraries also be subpoenaed?
And imagine the outcry if Clinton had pardoned an immigrant exile
accused of masterminding an airline bombing that cost the lives of seventy-three
people, including twenty-four teenage members of an Olympic fencing team. Yet
that is what George Bush did in acceding to the requests of his son, Jeb,
to pardon Orlando Bosch, gaining Jeb support in Miami's exile Cuban
The most serious of Clinton's pardon excesses, that of former CIA
Director John Deutsch, does not rise to that level, but it is odd that it
has not been criticized. By pardoning Deutsch, Clinton ended an inquiry
into how sloppily top secrets are handled at the highest level. The
Clinton Administration had held former Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee in
solitary confinement for mishandling data that wasn't even classified as
secret at the time. It was Lee and not Deutsch who deserved a pardon. But
that would have meant enduring criticism, and Clinton only does that for
What Clinton did in catering to the wishes of his rich backers was
probably less motivated by library gifts than by misplaced compassion for
well-heeled but seedy people. That makes it all the more depressing, for
one would have hoped that someone who came up the hard way would know
that the filthy rich don't deserve special favors. But the rich pay the
piper, and no matter who's in the White House, Presidents do dance.
So it is, and so it always has been. The presidential pardon is a perk
of office, which has only the function of exonerating those the judicial
system would otherwise continue to condemn. It is a power begging to be
abused, but no more so by Clinton than many a Republican President who
The first son seemed anointed, then
The tide began to ebb.
Did anybody ever ask,
"So could we bring in Jeb?"
Research support was provided by the Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute. Follow-ups:
"Amplification," June 19, 2000 and letters exchanges: "Lead--Balloons and Bouquets," May 15, and "Lead-Letter Office," July 3, 2000.
The rogues in robes are on the move. US Supreme Court Chief
Justice William H. Rehnquist, the leader of the pack, and the rest of the
Court's right-wing majority have launched a judicial revolution that
usurps the power of Congress as it applies to civil rights law.
In its latest decision, the Court last week overruled Congress and
held that state governments can arbitrarily deny jobs to disabled people
without violating the equal protection clause of the Constitution. The
Court's decision to gut the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in
1990 by a huge bipartisan majority in Congress and signed into law by
former President Bush, is yet another assault on representative
democracy. Not content with short-circuiting the presidential election,
the Court has now decided that it, and not Congress, shall make the laws.
When passed more than a decade ago, the only significant opposition to
the ADA came from a band of ultra-rightists led by Jesse Helms (R-N.C.),
who mustered just seven other ultra-conservative Senate votes.
Unfortunately, the Senate's far right is now well-represented on the
Court, and the Justices did what Helms failed to do.
The ADA was the most significant civil rights legislation in decades,
allowing the tens of millions of Americans with disabilities access to
jobs, schools and buildings. The legislation was inspired by those, such
as wounded war hero Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), who believed that the
barriers to the full participation of the disabled in our public life
were a clear violation of their civil rights.
In the recent case before the court, a registered nurse at the
University of Alabama hospital was demoted upon returning to work after
breast cancer treatment. Rehnquist, in helping to overrule a federal
Court of Appeals decision that the ADA prohibited such discrimination,
put cost accounting above the right to access when he wrote that it would
be "entirely rational and therefore constitutional for a state employer
to conserve scarce financial resources by hiring employees who are able
to use existing facilities."
Don't be surprised if the Court next rules that it is not necessary to
provide ramps or other facilities to wheelchair-bound people seeking
access to public buildings, or Braille numbers to aid the blind in
elevators. The Court has already gutted barriers to age discrimination in
What is at issue is the interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the
Constitution extending the protection of universal civil rights to all
Americans regardless of the state in which they reside. The Fourteenth
Amendment--originally addressing the issue of racial
discrimination--explicitly empowers Congress to pass "appropriate
legislation" needed to guarantee equal protection of the law for all.
In striking down key provisions of the ADA, Rehnquist dealt a body
blow to the separation of powers, which grants to Congress sole authority
to pass federal law. Rehnquist said that the law in question was
ill-conceived because he didn't agree with Congress's evaluation of
evidence on the subject, saying it was based on "unexamined, anecdotal
accounts" that did not qualify as "legislative findings."
Given that the ADA was one of the more carefully researched pieces of
legislation ever passed by Congress, there's no reason to believe that
the Court won't throw out any law it doesn't agree with. As Justice
Stephen G. Breyer pointed out in his dissent, the ADA had been the
subject of a dozen Congressional hearings. Breyer attached a thirty-nine-page list prepared for Congress of state-by-state examples of official acts of
discrimination against the disabled. This is not enough? And, anyway,
when it suits its political purpose, the Court's right-wing majority is
quick to rule the opposite, insisting that Congress, not the courts, has
sole power to craft federal law.
Just this past weekend, Justice Antonin Scalia claimed in a speech
that those who believe that the Constitution is an evolving or living
document want to use judicial interpretation to make law. He taunted:
"You want a right to abortion? Pass a law. That's flexibility."
Yet when Congress did pass a law extending the scope of civil rights
protection to the disabled, Scalia didn't like it. He joined the 5-4
opinion overturning it.
Just a couple of questions: If the life of every fetus is sacred, why
would we want to deny that fetus, if born with disabling birth defects,
full civil rights? If one is denied a state job solely because he or she
must use a wheelchair, is that not a clear violation of the equal
protection of the laws called for in the Fourteenth Amendment?
Hypocritically, the same five Justices who struck down the ADA as a
violation of states' rights were all too willing to toss out the issue of
states' rights on the Florida election count. The lesson then and now is
that the current majority of the US Supreme Court seeks to usurp the
power of the states and the Congress when--and only when--it suits its
fiercely held ideological agenda. Sadly, civil rights are the prime
target of that agenda.
In Kennebunk, land of the Bushes,
The men of the cloth all wore tweed.
And one didn't meet any Christians
Like Robertson, Falwell and Reed.