Who should President Barack Obama pardon?

President Barack Obama is on track to issue fewer pardons than any President in modern history. He granted clemency only 22 times during his first term, the fewest since James Garfield in 1881.

This comes as little surprise to most Americans, who recognize President Obama as a remarkably conservative leader who instinctively defers to the judiciary and avoids political controversy wherever possible. Democrats have become unusually tough on crime in recent decades, despite – and in response to – perpetual “soft on crime” accusations from blustering Republicans.

But Obama has nothing left to fear from the radical right that tried the last four years – and failed – to make him a one-term president. And he has nothing to prove to the partisan critics who will accuse him of corruption and injustice no matter what.

He owes a great deal, however, to those of us who have been with him from the beginning, and who fought for his re-election just a few months ago. So the very least he could do is give us a good laugh. These pardons may not be the most urgent or practical, but they would definitely make Sean Hannity’s head explode faster than a live grenade. 3…2…1…


Marion Barry made famouse the line the "Bitch set me up," after being caught on FBI surveillance video footage in 1990.
DC Mayor Marion Barry made famous the line the “Bitch set me up,” after being caught on an FBI surveillance video footage in 1990.

Barry, the former mayor of DC, was convicted of possession in 1990 when authorities filmed him smoking cocaine in a hotel room during a sting operation. Ever since then, Barry has been portrayed as a symbol of corruption in the capitol – especially by Republicans, who are eager to connect drug use with Barry’s political affiliation and race.

The beauty of a Barry pardon? We all know he did it. And Barry already did his time, so it’s not like he’d be getting away with anything. A Barry pardon would be a purely moral statement: a clear rejection of our destructive, counterproductive drug war, and a much-deserved insult to those who try to weaponize it for political gain.


Historians have taken a sympathetic view of abolitionist John Brown in recent years, even calling him “one of the most perceptive human beings of his generation.”

John_Brown_-_Treason_broadside,_1859But he was captured in 1859 after a failed raid on the armory at Harpers Ferry, which he launched in an attempt to arm slaves and spark a revolt. And weeks later, Virginia authorities hanged Brown on counts of treason and murder.

Our country is still littered with monuments to the traitors, killers and slaveholders of the Confederacy, and Brown is still remembered by many as “the father of American terrorism”.

A posthumous pardon from President Obama would be an excellent step toward righting those wrongs. (So would reparations, but that’s another article.)


President_Barack_Obama's_long_form_birth_certificateFrom conspiracy theories about forged birth certificates to claims that he murdered right-wing propagandist Andrew Breitbart, there’s been no shortage of accusations that Obama himself is complicit in criminal behavior.

So why not fuel the right’s delusions – and simultaneously destroy any hope of prosecution – by absolving himself of any crimes he “may or may not have committed”?


President George H.W. Bush pardoned several participants for the Iran Contra affair – the notorious Reagan-era scandal in which administration officials violated an arms embargo and act of Congress to sell arms to Iran. But he never pardoned Reagan, who escaped conviction by claiming ignorance.

A Reagan pardon would be brilliant for two reasons. Superficially, it would allow Obama to assume his favorite pose: the generous non-partisan, magnanimously letting a Republican off the hook. But effectively, a “for any crimes he may or may not have committed” pardon would remind the nation of Reagan’s involvement and cast a shadow of doubt over the Republican idol’s legacy.


Because we have the highest incarceration rate in the world – over 2 million people every year, and climbing. And it’s absolutely ridiculous to pretend like we’ve created some kind of adequate last-resort judicial stopgap by transferring moral responsibility to the unbounded discretion of a single guy who can only possibly issue a tiny handful of token pardons.

This could have fed how many people?
This could have fed how many people?

A pardon isn’t a reasonable instrument of justice – it’s a way to make us feel better about the injustice perpetrated by our government every day. And it isn’t doing much for the turkeys, either.

Next time around, Obama should just execute the turkey on-camera and shove it in the oven. If Americans can’t live with that, maybe they should rethink this whole “pardon” deal altogether.

One thought on “Who should President Barack Obama pardon?

  • February 25, 2013 at 9:20 PM

    Can Barry O’Bummer pardon himself once he’s been impeached? Because it’s just a matter of time…..

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