Sunday, July 8, 2007

Monday with McKenna: The Quality of Mercy

The Brooklyn Bridge and the NYC skyline, from the Promenade in Brooklyn Heights (click to enlarge)

It's working; we're being heard at last. Isn't it an amazing coincidence that these GOP Senators are coming back to Washington with a fresh mindset about Iraq?

No, it's not a coincidence at all. These politicians have spent a week at home, hearing it from you—the disgusted, angry, despairing citizens of this nation—and they're finally seeing where their bread is buttered. Keep it up, people: just think how you'll feel when those kids start coming home, alive and whole, because you put the pressure on the pols to make it so. Every call you make, every email you send, every time you make a pest of yourself to the powerful, you're bringing us a little closer to a life-saving tipping point. Once again, keep it up.

Now I know I promised the opening of our Harry Potter week today, and now I will break my promise. Perhaps you're thinking, "this blog should be knocked off the web." Well, come back this time next month and you'll see that some wishes do come true.

First, though, Terry sent me the following over the weekend, and it deserves a hearing in its natural Monday slot. My worthy blogging partner does like to inspire debate—you can inscribe your ripostes to the comments. I'll simply say that those guys Clinton pardoned didn't start any wars, decloak any CIA agents, or cook the books on any intel. Yet I will agree with Terry when he argues that not merely is the Libby pardon an aberration of justice, it does not even meet Shakespeare's famous definition of mercy. Mr. McKenna:

Mercy and justice: they live parallel lives. Wherever one is, the other cannot be far behind.  In my college days, I remember a Jewish professor telling us (in a history class at Cooper Union) that Christians go overboard with mercy, that Jews were much better balanced and so favored justice.  Not being too familiar with Jewish law, I didn’t know what to think.  I still don’t – but also still think of mercy as the central gift from Jesus’ ministry.
Shakespeare said this:

The quality of mercy is not strained, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath: It is twice blessed: It blesses him that gives and him that takes... Mercy... is enthroned in the hearts of kings, It is an attribute to God Himself. And earthly power doth then show likest God's when mercy seasons justice.

Now we are faced with the spectacle of Bush’s pardon of Scooter Libby. 
If we compare his pardon to the Clinton pardons, Scooter is a more worthy figure.  Yes Scooter was deceitful, but at least he believed he was serving something larger than himself.  The Clinton pardons were pure excesses of venality and partisanship, mere favors to big contributors.  Hillary’s brothers even made money on the deal (I forget the details, but trust me on this one).   
So Bush’s pardon was less disgraceful than Clinton’s many pardons. 
But let’s reflect on the pardons of a different era.  During the civil war, President Lincoln was routinely faced with having to sign off on the execution of a soldier who had deserted and was caught.  Lincoln understood that these men were guilty, be he also understood, “there but for the grace of god go I.”   Nearly to a man he pardoned them.  Of course Lincoln was a man of mercy.  I think it is also clear that justice was served.  If we look to Shakespeare, who does not agree that the pardons evidenced Lincoln’s kingly heart.  This American King granted life to the lowest of his subjects, the lowly soldier about to die.
George Bush was faced with many executions during his tenure as Texas’ governor, for Texas leads the list when it comes to executions.  And often he received a request for clemency.  But not once did his hard heart bend and grant a pardon.  But then, we knew that he did not have the heart of a king. 
Yet now when faced with the spectacle of a 30 month jail sentence for Scooter Libby, for this successful example of the white ruling class, George Bush’s hard heart melted, and a pardon issued forth.
Justice?  Hardly.

—T. McKenna

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