Pardon Me, Mr. President (after all, I’m just a turkey)
If you're looking for a presidential pardon from George W. Bush, it seems you'd have better luck being a turkey than a nonviolent drug offender.
On Thanksgiving Day, despite being the stingiest president over the past 75 years in terms of handing out pardons and commutations, President Bush gleefully pardoned two turkeys, "May" and "Flower", while tens of thousands of men and women languished in jail for nonviolent drug offenses, their lives unnecessarily derailed by our misguided war on drugs, and for whom presidential pardons are mere fantasies.
If only President Bush were as miserly when it came to spending taxpayers' dollars to fund the disastrous and woefully mismanaged Iraq war as he has been with pardons and commutations. Bush has pardoned only 113 people while commuting only four sentences (including that of Scooter Libby); of those pardons, only 16 involved drug offenses. Given that this country has 2.3 million people in prison, and that roughly half of all federal inmates and 20% of all state inmates are incarcerated for drug offenses, the fact that only 14% of President Bush’s pardons have been for drug offenders is deplorable.
Other two-term presidents have not been nearly so squeamish issuing pardons or commutations: Truman issued 2,031 in eight years, Eisenhower 1,157, Clinton 457, and Reagan 406 (Franklin Roosevelt pardoned 3,687 people in 12 years, while Carter issued 563 in four years). By comparison, as our nation's prison population has skyrocketed --- galaxies beyond where it stood in Truman and Eisenhower's day --- George W. Bush has shown forgiveness on far fewer occasions.
Pardons do not make policy, and the White House's approach to drug offenses, which mirrors the approach of much of the country, has been shortsighted and done long-term damage to many communities. But, at the very least, if he is not willing to play a major (or any) role in righting this country's course on drug policy, President Bush could at least do more on a case-by-case basis if he were not so adverse to exempting people from punishment.
By the next Thanksgiving, this country will have elected a new president (and for that, we should all give many thanks). Hopefully, when he or she undertakes the traditional pardon of some turkeys, he or she will also consider pardoning incarcerated nonviolent human beings as well.