We now know Bush gave no more pardons, but he had confounded critics who had predicted that the White House would hand out commutations to CIA interrogators, former Bushies, the rich and famous and corrupt politicians who got caught. Politico.com listed 10 "pardons to watch for" -- including Ramos and Compean, as well as a full pardon for Libby, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and a former aide, and junk bond king turned ex-con Michael Milken. It turns out, Bush freed the agents, but did not issue a blanket amnesty for cronies, rich crooks and crooked pols.
The downside: Bush was stingy with the gift of mercy. He withheld from the worthy and unworthy alike. He issued a mere 189 pardons and 11 commutations. He failed the families of unknown convicts who, like Ramos and Compean, were sentenced to draconian prison time, thanks to federal mandatory minimum sentences.
Last month, I have just learned, Bush denied the commutation application of Clarence Aaron, who was sentenced in 1993 to life without parole for a first-time nonviolent drug offense. Reread that -- life without parole for a first-time nonviolent offense.
Maybe Bush believed that he would look too soft on crime if he commuted Aaron's sentence -- if Bush were aware of the politically unconnected Aaron at all.
But there is nothing tough about a system that rewards career offenders who know how to game the system, while it puts small fish like Aaron away for decades to life. The status quo is neither tough nor smart -- it's mean and stupid. And expensive.
If Bush had commuted Aaron's sentence, he could have shown his critics that he sought justice in unseen corners. He could have lived up to Alexander Hamilton's defense of the presidential pardon -- "One man appears to be a more eligible dispenser of the mercy of the government than a body of men." Bush was that dispenser for Ramos and Compean, but not Aaron.