Crimes and Pardons

In the local furor over will Bush/won’t Bush pardon our former gov (in the lovely context of the current one proving daily he is the biggest ass in Illinois, with certain other Chicago pols [cough, cough, Bobby Rush, cough] eager to prove their own ineptitude and crass ways), the Tribune ran a little chart recently that caught my eye. It showed the number of pardons each president has given during their terms, starting with Teddy Roosevelt through the Dubya presidency (until mid-December).

Along with the raw numbers, which FDR wins handily, the chart has the number of months each president was in office. Being the math whiz I am, I came up with a monthly average. I doubt, statistically, it means much, but it kept me busy on a slow workday. So, here are reflections on the numbers, featuring very uninformed notes about the larger political climate climate during their terms and a few comments on  religious habits, thinking that maybe one’s Christian upbringing might influence one’s views on forgiveness. Or not.

A Harding pardon - Socialist Eugene Debs.

A Harding pardon - Socialist Eugene Debs.

We start the century with two progressive – a relative term, I know – Republicans, TR and Taft. TR has a Calvinist-influenced religion (Dutch reformed), Taft the most liberal Christian (I use the term lightly) background, Unitarian. They were almost equal in their monthly pardon average (mpa – oooh, I feel like I’m creating a new sport), with 7.4 and 8, respectively. Next comes Wilson, a Democrat, with another Calvinist background (Presbyterian). His mpa was 11. Harding, fun-loving, scandal-tinged Republican Baptist, is right around there with 10. We see a slight rise under Republican  Silent Cal Coolidge, good New England Congregationalist, to 11.5.

So far, the biggest jump in mpa came with the transition from a Republican to a Democrat.  But Quaker-raised Republican Herbert Hoover beats Wilson’s 3 mpa boost over Taft, topping his fellow Repubilcan Coolidge by 3.5. Hoover’s 14 gives him the highest average for any Republican in the 20th century.

In about 25 years since TR, the pardons have almost doubled. Now comes the biggest upward spike of all time, as FDR, a Democrat and Episcopalian, has a whopping 19.4 mpa. The raw number of 2,819 is pretty staggering too, but remember, that reflects 145 months in office, a little more than 4 years longer than any other president has served. I wonder also if the numbers reflect pardons for people who committed crimes fed by the desperation of the New Deal.

Truman, Democrat and Baptist, take the title of greatest pardoner of all, based on his mpa: 20.5. I would love to see a detailed study of who he pardoned and why. After that peak, we have the largest drop ever recorded, as Eisenhower’s mpa came in at 11.5. A Republican and Presbyterian, maybe Ike’s  military background influenced him. Or, he was just going back to the norm for the pre-Depression/war era, with FDR and Truman as aberrations.

Kennedy, a Democrat and the only Catholic, had an mpa of 14. His successor, LBJ, came in at 15. His church was the Disciples of Christ, the one faith of the modern presidents which I knew the least about. It’s rooted in Prebyterianism and is now allied with the Congregationalists, suggesting a liberal bent.

Signing the most famous pardon of all...

Signing the most famous pardon of all...

jimmy_hoffa_320x240

Jimmy Hoffa - scores a Nixon pardon, then disappears

Nixon, a Republican and Quaker, almost matched his earlier counterpart Hoover, coming in with an mpa of 13. (A note for Nixon and the other presidents who did not serve full terms: we can assume their mpa’s would have been higher if they had not died/left office, since pardons typically more often come at the end of a term.)  Ford, his successor, had an identical 13. (Ford was an Episcopalian.) Of course, Ford also made the most famous presidential pardon of all time… Carter, Democrat and Baptist, continued the downward trend, with an mpa of 11.

He can thank Reagan for restoring his good name (ha ha)

He can thank Reagan for restoring his good name (ha ha)

With the 1980s and the rise of the conservatives, things get interesting. Mr. Law-and-Order, “Get those welfare queens” Reagan has, until his presidency,  the lowest mpa of the century: 4. Reagan had both Presbyterian and Disciples of Christ influences. Then, Mr. Mainstream-Republican, Mainline-Episcopalian Bush I showed the most miserly approach ever to pardoning – just 1.5 per month! He, like Ford, also scores negative bonus points for who he pardoned, with the Iran-Contragate get-out-of-jail free passes.

Then we come to Bill Clinton. He of the shady last-minute pardons causing problems for Obama’s AG-designate. Clinton, Democrat and Baptist and sex fiend, surely must be near the top with his mpa. Nah. It’s a lowly 4, putting him right there with Reagan.

And now we come to Born-Again Bush II. Dubya showed some of his colors on pardoning with the Karla Faye Tucker affair back when he was gov of Texas. So far, with just a month or so to go, Dubya was second only to Dad in holding out on the presidential passes, with an mpa of 2.

So, conclusions? I don’t think the religion really plays a role. Attitudes about law-and-order issues may. And without detailed analysis of each president’s pardons, this probably is just a silly exercise. But I think it’s safe to say no one will ever match Truman’s prestigious numbers. Maybe in the early days of superpower status, a pres could show forgiveness and not worry about looking soft. But today, with law-and-order values still flourishing, and corruption and terrorism afoot like never before, you probably have to be very lucky to get that pardon. And don’t expect much help from anyone named Bush. But let’s see if Dubya has any January surprises in store.

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~ by mburgan on December 30, 2008.

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