Mike Huckabee Can Survive the Maurice Clemmons Pardon Problem

Huckabee is still viable in 2012.

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By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

I've noted here before that Christians fall into two categories—those who steer their boat by the Old Testament, with all its don'ts and damnations, and those who lean more toward the New Testament, and tend to give the Sermon on the Mount equal time with the Ten Commandments.

Liberals generally prefer the "blessed be" to the "thou shalt not," but that is not a cast iron rule. I believe I've seen studies that show that conservatives do more church-organized charity work in their leisure time. And then there are guys like Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister and former governor of Arkansas who, on a shoestring budget, put a scare into John McCain and the other GOP presidential contenders last time out.

As governor of Arkansas, Huckabee displayed Christian values, like courage, faith and mercy, which politicians like to talk about, but not so many practice. Far more than his Democratic predecessors (one of whom was Bill Clinton), Huckabee used his powers to pardon or commute the sentences of Arkansas prisoners. He tried to see Christ in everyone, even those in jail; I think I remember being told to do that, from time to time, in church on Sundays.

In a post on the Daily Beast, Democrat-turned-Republican advisor Mark McKinnon speaks for many political wise guys when arguing that Huckabee's chances to ever be president ended last month after four policemen in Takoma, Wash., were apparently murdered by the alleged cop killer Maurice Clemmons. Huckabee, as governor, granted clemency to Clemmons in 2000.

(Here's another reason why newspapers will be missed. As reporters we were taught that, until proven guilty, all citizens have the right to have "alleged" put before the description of their crime. Internet opinion pieces don't bother with that quaint courtesy. Sentence first, verdict afterwards, said the Red Queen.)

"Huckabee is done as a political candidate. For good," McKinnon writes. "Doesn't matter what the circumstances were, doesn't matter whether there was a convincing rationale at the time. This is politics, American-style. Stick a fork in him."

McKinnon says what most political consultants, partisan commentators (Rush Limbaugh) and many veteran politicians believe—that in cases like this we Americans are a herd of stupid cattle that can be steered by shouts and hooplah, without the ability to reach reasoned conclusions when choosing leaders. I disagree, but there is some evidence to support their case.

I covered the 1988 election, when the late Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes (wonder what he is doing these days?) shot down the Democratic campaign with scary ads about the murderous Willie Horton who, after Gov. Dukakis freed him from prison, went on to commit more grievous crimes.

"What was sauce for the Michael Dukakis goose is sauce for the Michael Huckabee gander. Worse, actually. For Dukakis, Willie Horton was a general election issue. For Huckabee, Clemmons (who was shot to death by police) would be a primary election issue. And Republican voters are notoriously law-and-order fanatics," says McKinnon. "They would make Willie Horton look like an altar boy compared to Maurice Clemmons."

Maybe. But in doing so, the GOP electorate would only be hurting itself. Putting aside what happened in Takoma, it is hard to argue that Huckabee did the wrong thing.

At the age of 16, in 1989, Clemmons had been sentenced in Arkansas to 108 years for burglary and robbery without a weapon. Silly Mike Huckabee thought that an upper-class white kid might have gotten a different sentence for that particular crime. And so, after Clemmons had served 11 years in prison, Huckabee commuted the sentence so that the convict might have an opportunity to persuade a parole board that he deserved a second chance.

The parole board agreed. But by now Clemmons had grown to manhood in the gentle precincts of a state prison system. He was charged with further crimes, and bureaucratic stumbling allowed him to remain at large—until Takoma.

There are reasons why I would not vote for Mike Huckabee to be president. He would have to reassure me that the same religious faith that expressed itself so admirably in his mercy would not, on other issues, lead him to mix God with State. He apparently believes, for example, that Genesis should be taught along with Darwin in public school biology class. But neither would I lose sleep at night if Huckabee were elected. I don't believe we should "stick a fork in him."

Is this really, as McKinnon says, politics, American-style? Is this the best we can do?

Shortly before he died, still a young man, from brain cancer, Lee Atwater expressed his regret for the Willie Horton episode.

The Golden Rule is not "an eye for an eye."

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