George W. Bush justified the vacating of the prison term for I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby by calling it “excessive”:
I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libbyâ€™s sentence that required him to spend 30 months in prison.
But a review of sentences for obstruction of justice, the crime of which I. Lewis Libby was convicted, shows that three out of four people convicted are sent to prison. Libby is typical in this regard, or was until his sentence was commuted by the president. The average prison sentence for people convicted of obstruction of justice is more than five years; Libby actually got off easier than average.
What did Bush have in his mind when he referred to I. Lewis Libby’s sentence as “excessive?” Is it that a man of Libby’s position as a Bush pal and White House staffer deserves a lesser sentence because of his exalted position? A more generous interpretation of Bush’s motivation is that perhaps he was not trading insider favors, but simply applying a general understanding of his that sentences for obstruction of justice are overall too harsh. But if that were true, where is the action on behalf of the many other Americans snared by such supposedly unjust sentences and sitting in prison without presidential intervention? Even if the president does not commute their sentences, he might if truly motivated by a sense of injustice promote a remedy through legislation, or establish a commission to review obstruction sentences and make recommendations, or at least give a speech about the subject.
George W. Bush hasn’t done any of this as president, leading us to this mystery: is Bush an insider favor trader, is he an elitist who only cares about the injustices that afflict powerful people, or is he too lazy to act even on issues he says he cares about?
Meanwhile, Republican Party politicians are either voicing their support for the commutation or even suggesting that Bush didn’t do a big enough favor for his insider pal. And how many Democratic Party politicians would be so outraged if Scooter Libby were on their team? If you want different forces in government, you’ll have to look for people who are motivated by some kind of underlying principles, and who act based on them.