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David Vines

David Vines

Posted: December 13, 2009 05:44 PM

Clemency for Huckabee

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Earlier this month, former Arkansas Governor and 2012 presidential hopeful, Mike Huckabee, saw his political career flash before his eyes.

Shortly after four police officers were murdered in Lakewood, Washington, reports surfaced that Maurice Clemmons might be the man responsible. Within hours of the incident, the media ran with the story that Clemmons, 37, had been granted clemency in 2000 by then-Governor Mike Huckabee despite the long and troubling rap sheet Clemmons had accumulated as a teenager.

If it can be proved that Clemmons murdered the four Lakewood police officers, Huckabee will have the specter of his own Willie Horton hanging over his head. In fact, many have written off his political career already.

However, Democrats should resist the temptation of Schadenfreude over the political demise of a candidate we oppose on just about every issue -- be it the teaching of creationism, or his opposition to gay marriage and stricter gun laws. While a public and messy implosion for this conservative icon might grant us some immediate satisfaction, in the end, it is more likely to impede justice rather than advance it.

Since no candidate wants to be labeled "soft on crime" -- especially after Michael Dukakis' aforementioned Willie Horton disaster -- elected officials have strong incentives to keep criminals behind bars for as long as they can. This makes sense in the case of murders, rapists and other extremely violent criminals. But when such standards trickle down to nonviolent criminals such as recreational drug offenders, prison populations soar, the government is submerged deeper in debt, and the lives of potentially productive members of society are ruined.

Our nation's founders were wise to separate judges from the chaotic game of politics because they knew if justice were to be truly blind, the men (and now women) administering it must not be swayed by pressure from an emotional electorate.

This is why all parole and clemency rulings should be decided by people who do not have a political stake in the outcome of their decisions. Politicians should not be involved in these rulings because they could be tempted to put their own self-interests ahead of the interest of society as a whole.

But for now, if Democrats join Republicans in taking Huckabee down over his clemency ruling, it could come back to haunt them. In the end, we could have more draconian penalties and less justification for them.