Friday, December 26, 2008

I'll be curious to see what kind of conspiracy theories get thrown around regarding President Bush's weird attempt to reverse his own pardon of Isaas Toussie, as soon as the blogosphere starts lighting up when people start returning to their keyboards as holiday dinner recedes into the past and the tryptophan starts wearing off. It's such a strange thing to have done, under cover of the news blackout that is the Christmas season, that there has to be some super-secret subtext to this. Maybe it was all done as a distraction from something really grotty. But my own hunch is that it was just the President's second most deeply ingrained psychological reflex asserting itself again. You will recall that Bush has spent most of his life defining himself as the better, tougher, folksier doppelganger of his own mewling dad, but that, so confounding are the effects of the love-hate relationship, for the past fifteen years he's been trying to finesse a path between not doing what his dad would do and never, ever doing what his dad's conqueror, Bill Clinton, might do. It's been easy to lose track of this as the President has become more and more irrelevant to anything in recent years, but in his first term, he and his elves where notorious for invoking the doctrine of "ABC"--"Anything But Clinton". If Clinton built FEMA up into one of the effective, smoothly run arms of the government, then the right thing to do must be to gut the agency, restaff it with cronies and retards, and then react to the kind of national disaster that it would once have been their job to respond to by waiting three days to say that it sure is news to you and everyone you know that a levee can fail. If the U.S. government under Clinton caught, tried, and imprisoned the people responsible for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the Oklahoma City bombing, then catching terrorists might be for pussies. A real man orders that the search for those responsible be called off and then invades a country where terrorists have been supremely unwelcome by the local dictator-strongman and knocks him off an creates a state of anarchy so that the terrorists will have a new preserve in which to play and roam free. If it so happens that it's the same dictator-strongman that your daddy was too lame to topple from power, hey--that's a twofer!

So I suspect that when President Bush issued his nineteen--count 'em, nineteen, wow, what a prince!--pardons in time for his final White House Christmas, and then it turned out that one of them was for a guy whose father had made donations to the RNC and to John McCain, the name "Marc Rich" must have shot through his head like a comet. I haven't seen Rich's name brought up in connection to this yet--which isn't to say that I might have just missed it--and you might have altogether forgotten who he is, but I'll bet that George W. Bush remembers any name connected with a reason that Bill Clinton was once summoned to the principal's office the same way that most people remember the first time their children said their names aloud. Rich is the guy who Clinton pardoned during his last day in office, partly in response to the recommendation of Barack Obama's nominee for Attorney General, Eric Holder. Rich had fled the country in 1983 after then-U.S. Attorney General Rudy Giuliani charged him with tax evasion and illegally doing business with Iran during the hostage crisis. In 1989, the U.S. Justice Department decided that Guiliani's use of the RICO statute in tax-evasion cases was improper, and the idea that Rich hadn't even broken the law was supported by such hippie Socialist types as Scooter Libby, but Rich's wife had made donations to the Democratic Party and the Clinton Library, and the idea that the pardon was so without merit as to be indefensible and had simply been bought resonated strongly with a Republican party and a Washington press corps that never got over its failure to have Clinton tried for war crimes in the Hague for having had an affair. However shady some aspects of the affair could be made to seem, the hysteria that it set off now looks, to some of us anyway, like the reaction of people who were freaking out partly just because this was their last chance to scream at the world that the Boss Hogg of Arkansas was the devil incarnate. (It was one of three fancifully overreported "scandals" that kept the media occupied while the Bushies were settling in and John Ashcroft was yelling to stop bothering him with this "Al Kida" nonsense and focus on throwing blankets over nude statues and busting New Orleans whorehouses. The other scandals centered around made-up charges that Clinton staffers had vandalized the White House by such stunts as removing the "W" keys from all the computers, and shocked reports that the Clintons themselves had actually taken some of their belongings with them when they left. Actual examination revealed that the "plunder" was commensurate with the amount of gifts, furniture and other objects taken by the Reagan and Bush, Sr. families when they departed the White House, but at the time, the media did their best to summon up an image of greedy hillbillies piling the flat-bed truck up with such priceless historical mementos as George Washington's TV table.)

So it must have been an interesting moment when Bush decided that, if he let that one pardon stand, he might for giving up his braggings rights on a single point of being morally superior to Bill Clinton, especially if I'm right in believing that feeling morally superior to Clinton, and tougher and more down-to-earth than his dad, is more important to him than any claim he could ever make to bringing freedom to any people or place on Earth. In fact, in his position as a leader with the power to bypass and override the usual channels of justice, Bush has made it clear how little he cares about bringing freedom to those who may deserve it. As Governor of Texas, he was famously stingy with pardons and pleas for clemency, and he never met a Death Row conviction he didn't like. This, more than anything else you could throw at him, is what has always given some of us the cold creeps about Bush, for all the testimony others offer about how hard he is to dislike: a man who's had such an easy life, with every sin forgiven and every chute greased ahead of him, ought to have a lot more empathy for those who've spun the wheel of justice and just had to take their chances. Instead, Bush has issued some 190 pardons in eight years as president, compared to 456 pardons issued by Bill Clinton. They've tended to be for people who committed minor crimes long ago and served their full sentences; Bush, who had plenty of opportunities in his life to observe how differently he was being treated from people who committed stupid offenses such as driving drunk but who didn't belong to rich and powerful families, seems to have retained the Texas hard-ass's belief that if somebody is in jail they must belong there, and that to even question someone's conviction or the harshness of their sentence is tantamount to pissing on a murdered policeman's grave while his widow is made to watch. I don't know how much mercy Isaac Toussie deserves; some of the people who feel victimized by him and who have legal suits pending against him were righteously angry about the news. I do know that if George W. Bush wanted to sum up his personal legacy and what he represents as a leader and a human being, he could scarcely have done better than to define himself not as the president who was most generous with his forgiveness, or most discerning with it either, but as the president who was selfish with it, then became reckless with it, and then announced that he wanted it back.

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