Mike Huckabee found himself some bad publicity after a man whose 95-year prison sentence he commuted shot and killed four police officers in Washington.
Clearly, there are political implications for Huckabee, as you can tell from his blame-deflecting, damage-controlling statement on the issue, which basically says, “Boy, that lousy justice system sure did let us all down, huh?” It sure did, Mike, especially seeing how the guy at the head of that system “handed out pardons like candy.“
I don’t care anything about Huckabee’s political career, because I’m pretty confident that he’s never going to president (though, goodness knows, I don’t have a great track record when it comes to predictions). But this whole sad tale raises a couple of issues I do care about.
The first is how Huckabee’s down-home, aw-shucks persona, combined with his self-aggrandizing piousness, makes people think that Christian politicians are all a bunch of nagging doofuses. There are already enough people trying to get Christians out of politics. The last thing we need is to make people think that if you puut a Christian in the governor’s mansion, some inflated sense of charity is going to drive him to open the doors of all the prisons.
The second is the profound misunderstanding of the concept of forgivness. If Huckabee thinks that his Christianity demands that he grant pardons willy-nilly (which apparently he did), that makes me think that his “forgiveness” is less about devotion to the will of God and more about spiritual grandstanding.
It’s easy to forgive when the person you’re forgiving hasn’t done anything to you. I can forgive criminals all day long if they haven’t hurt anyone I know, and I haven’t had to live with the consequences of their actions. God doesn’t ask us to forgive just so we can show how magnanimous we are. He asks us to forgive because that teaches us to be more like Him, by extending grace to someone who has hurt you directly.
Huckabee’s pardons of of criminals he doesn’t know–and more importantly, whose victims he doesn’t know–is grace on the cheap. It doesn’t make him a great Christian; it make him a governor who abdicated one of his most important responsibilities and used God as an excuse.
Update: Reason has more about clemency powers in general, including an important distinction:
Huckabee has been criticized before for his use of pardon and clemency powers, from conservatives who say he was too easy on violent offenders to liberals who say the Baptist minister favored convicts who found Jesus in jail. Already, some are arguing that the Clemmons case will make governors much less likely to use their clemency power. That’s too bad. These powers are already increasingly under-utilized. Worse, when they are used, it’s often for the wrong reasons. A governor’s power to grant relief to convicts ought to be used as a check against injustice. It’s far more commonly used as a reward for redemption.