Obama's Immoral Record on Pardons

By Bill Maher

Apparently Barack Obama is a very unforgiving person. In his first term, he pardoned 22 people. In FDR's first term, he pardoned about 600, with a hell of a lot fewer inmates to choose from. During Clinton's two terms, he pardoned or commuted the sentences of 459; George W. Bush: 200.

Obama commuted the sentence of only one person in his first term. According to ProPublica's Dafna Linzer, who's done a lot of great work on this, "Under Reagan and Clinton, applicants for commutations had a 1 in 100 chance of success. Under George W. Bush, that fell to a little less than 1 in 1,000. Under Obama, an applicant's chance is slightly less than 1 in 5,000."

Why is he so stingy? Does being the first black president make him overly afraid of having a Willie Horton situation on his watch? Because he's gotta get over that shit. I mean, I'm not asking him to do a prison break, but couldn't he be at least half as merciful as George W. Bush, a man famous for putting people to death and not giving a shit? 

There are about 219,000 people in federal prison (presidents can pardon only federal crimes), almost half on non-violent drug offenses. If he can't find a few slam-dunk cases of innocence there, he's not trying hard enough. One case that's pending is a guy named Clarence Aaron, who's been sentenced to three life terms for introducing drug dealers. Not buying, selling, or supplying. Introducing. Both the prosecutor and the judge in his case sought immediate commutation of his sentence. Obama knows this. So what's taking him so long to give the poor guy a break?

Aaron's black, and black people almost never get pardoned. ProPublica and The Washington Post studied all the pardons in the Bush years, and found whites were four times as likely to get them as minorities. Isn't it tragic that the first black president's record is even worse? Sometimes it's as if he's afraid that if he champions black people or black causes, then the secret will get out that he's black, too.

Keep in mind this is a president who's admitted to at one point in his life being a huge stoner and doing cocaine. He must know how lucky he was not to have his life and career ruined by our stupid drug war. Doesn't he owe a debt to the unlucky?

I was hoping he'd get better in the second term, so I was happy to read a headline earlier this month that he pardoned 17 people, almost as many as in his entire first term. Then I looked at the details, and 12 of those people weren't even serving jail time. It's a big nothing, and his record on this is still deplorable.

When he nominated Sonia Sotomayor, he was eloquent about the need for empathy in a Supreme Court justice. Somebody ought to remind him that's a pretty important quality for a president, too.