Obama’s gifts

Sparing a couple of turkeys but skewering Romney.

In carrying out the ritual of formally pardoning two Thanksgiving turkeys (no, not McConnell and Boehner), the President remarked:

They say that life is all about second chances. And this November, I could not agree more. So in the spirit of the season, I have one more gift to give, and it goes to a pair of turkeys named Cobbler and Gobbler.

Casting himself as the fortunate recipient of a “second chance” nicely underplays his electoral triumph. And the delicate touch of “one more gift to give” is almost awe-inspiring; Romney never even felt the stiletto going in.

It’s a delight to be led by someone who knows the uses of subtlety.

Footnote The ritual itself is charming in its origin: one of Lincoln’s sons formed an attachment to a turkey the First Family had been given to eat on Thanksgiving, and Lincoln – who made very active use of his real pardon powers in sparing soldiers sentenced to death for sleeping on watch or desertion – ceremoniously “pardoned” the bird.

Literally, continuing the tradition is rather absurd; the President doesn’t intend to encourage vegetarianism. But Lincoln is worth commemorating, even in his lighter moments, and the idea that mercy is part of the President’s duties is worth acting out annually.

Still, the re-enactment would have more weight if, as in Lincoln’s own case, mercy toward the birds were accompanied by the release of some of the nearly 200,000 human beings held behind bars and subject to Presidential clemency.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

9 thoughts on “Obama’s gifts”

  1. Nice post. I’m curious about the 200,000 number. Does that mean that there are only 200,000 people in federal prison? What if someone was treated supremely unjustly at the state level (say, one of the more egregious cases of being railroaded by a prosecutor or getting a ticky-tacky third strike)? Can the President pardon people out of the state penitentiary? Last question: can the president, via pardon, clear the record of any of the many sex offenders who say, through a consensual teenage relationship, are forced to wear a scarlet letter (announcing themselves to neighbors, etc.) and put at remove from society (not allowed to live in many areas, etc.)

  2. “Can the President pardon people out of the state penitentiary?”


    “Last question: can the president, via pardon, clear the record of any of the many sex offenders”

    I suspect this would be a double no, as the relevant laws are state laws, and being pardoned doesn’t make your offense disappear off the record. This shouldn’t be mistaken for support of the laws in question, which at the very least constitute ex post facto punishment of anybody convicted before they passed.

    1. Yup. The President has no power over state convictions – though you do have to think that an example of generous clemency might influence others. Sadly, the more likely result is that some pardoned offender would inspire outrage, which is probably why recent Presidents and especially Obama have been reluctant to issue pardons to living people (with some exceptions in their last months in office, including of course Marc Rich). Similarly with our often hysterical and indiscriminate sex-offender laws, which can conflate the worst monsters with teenagers who got caught being precocious with a teenage peer, and can leave these people with no way to rebuild their lives (as with the Florida counties that don’t let parolees and probationers leave town, but also don’t permit them to live within certain distances of schools and playgrounds, distances that leave no possible place to live. These laws are unjust, and there is little if any political upside, and tremendous risk, awaiting anyone that might attempt to reform them.)

  3. Ex parte Garland,71 US 333 (1866):

    “A pardon reaches both the punishment prescribed for the offence and the guilt of the offender;  and when the pardon is full, it releases the punishment and blots out of existence the guilt, so that in the eye of the law the offender is as innocent as if he had never committed the offence.   If granted before conviction, it prevents any of the penalties and disabilities consequent upon conviction from attaching;  if granted after conviction, it removes the penalties and disabilities, and restores him to all his civil rights;  it makes him, as it were, a new man, and gives him a new credit and capacity.”

    Whether a full state pardon obviates the need to register is a matter of state law. I would think that the answer is yes in most places.

  4. Still, the re-enactment would have more weight if, as in Lincoln’s own case, mercy toward the birds were accompanied by the release of some of the nearly 200,000 human beings held behind bars and subject to Presidential clemency.

    Some added context.

  5. My favorite holiday, a tribute to the triumph of individualism over socialism as a way to organize society. (The Pilgrims were giving thanks that they’d abandoned socialism, and as a consequence weren’t starving anymore.) I’m shortly off to a party, pie in hand. (Gloved hand, it’s still in the oven now!)

    Enjoy your thanksgivings, all of you!

    1. well, perhaps after dinner you could explain that rather unorthodox explanation of the origin of Thanksgiving to those who thought that the Pilgrims were giving thanks to (a) the Lord, for sparing them in this hostile new country (perhaps by populating it with inhabitants who knew how to survive and were willing to instruct in that art, or (b) said inhabitants, or (c) both. Where had they been living in socialism? in Jacobean England that persecuted them for their non-conformist beliefs? or in New England, where they adhered to communitarian principles (not quite the nationalization of the means of production, but maybe the sharing of production)? and how did they abandon this when they learned to take advantage of the resources of the new world?

      Bon appétit, in any event!

      1. New England, of course, where they began with, as you say, communitarianism, and found they had to abandon it in order to motivate people to work.

        And, there’s no bon appétit quite like the one you find at Filipino parties. The apple pie went over well, and the host’s turkey was delish, despite that giblet bag sticking out of the neck ruining the presentation. (He got a lot of ribbing over that.)

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