Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Great wisdom is generous; petty wisdom is contentious.
— Chuang Tzu, On Leveling All Things
I’m almost turning into a Republican what with defending the administration at every turn. Being an impartial sort, however, it seems only right that I do so when the opportunity presents itself so as to introduce balance into this space. Now it’s the Scooter Libby commutation offering proof, as do other things, that as Mr. Bush gets older he gets wiser. The Iraq war was the first evidence of this serving as it did, of Mr. Bush’s acknowledgement of the error of his youthful ways and the implicit acknowledgement that today’s youth is wiser than he was at their age. .
As has been recounted repeatedly, Mr. Bush did not flee to Canada during the Viet Nam war to avoid having to go to war, as so many with less courage did. Instead, he went AWOL, a military term applied to those who without proper authority do not show up to perform their required military service. By being AWOL, Mr. Bush showed himself willing to risk criminal prosecution and possible confinement if the fact that he had gone missing was noticed. Fortunately for him, no one noticed that he was gone and he was never prosecuted for his courageous criminal conduct. As president Mr. Bush felt comfortable disrupting the lives of hundreds of thousands of young men and women by asking them to help him invade Iraq. He knew that they, being wiser than he had been, would not make him look foolish by imitating him and refusing to serve, hoping as he had, that their absences would not be noticed.
The commutation of Mr. Libby’s sentence is another example of his newfound wisdom. It shows a compassion that was missing when Mr. Bush was governor of Texas.
Terry Washington was a 33 year-old convicted murderer with the communication skills of a seven-year-old. A request for commutation of his sentence because of his mentally retarded state was presented to Mr. Bush. The request was accompanied by a memorandum prepared by Mr. Bush’s then in-house execution expert, Alberto Gonzales, one of whose tasks was to prepare memoranda on requests for commutation. Mr. Bush met with Mr. Gonzales for 30 minutes before denying the request for commutation. Mr. Washington was not the only prospective decedent whose sentence Mr. Bush refused to commute. In his first 28 months as governor Mr. Bush denied 30 pleas for clemency. One of his most notable was Karla Faye Tucker.
Ms. Tucker was a convicted murderess who converted to Christianity during her incarceration and prior to her execution. There was considerable talk that, given her conversion, clemency might be appropriate. In 1999, political news pundit, Tucker Carlson interviewed then Governor Bush and asked him whether he met with any of the people who had come to Austin seeking clemency for Ms. Tucker. Mr. Bush said he had not but, according to Mr. Carlson’s report, the governor said he had watched Ms. Tucker’s interview with Larry King. Mr. Carlson reported that Mr. Bush said that “He [Larry King] asked her real difficult questions, like ‘What would you say to Governor Bush?’” Here is Mr. Carlson’s description of Mr. Bush’s description of Ms. Tucker’s response to the question: “ ‘Please,’ Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, ‘don’t kill me’.” Mr. Carlson reported that he later reviewed the transcript of the Larry King Live show and Ms. Tucker never uttered the words mimicked by Mr. Bush. Critics of Mr. Bush seized on his mocking of Ms. Tucker as proof that he was an insensitive boor. He may have been, but his thoughtful treatment of Mr. Libby evidences his newfound wisdom.
The decision on whether or not to spare the well-connected Mr. Libby the shame and embarrassment of a few months in prison was a tortuous process that took more than the 30 minutes allotted by the governor to consider the commutation of the mentally retarded Mr. Washington and others facing Texas-administered life extinction. People familiar with the discussion who were not authorized to speak and, therefore, spoke anonymously, said Mr. Bush spent weeks thinking about the Libby case. Although Mr. Bush said he thought the jury verdict should stand another anonymous-two who spoke to the New York Times said that in fact the advisors “were digging deeply into the substance of the charges against” Mr. Libby and “did he lie?”
Although 30 months in prison is bad for someone as respected as Mr. Libby it is less severe than killing someone who is mentally retarded. The treatment of Mr. Libby is clear evidence of the fact that the Mr. Bush who rules the United States is a far more compassionate conservative than the Mr. Bush who ruled Texas. You might not have noticed had you not read this column.