Commentary: The full politicization of crime and punishment
It's over for Mike Huckabee. His presidential hopes will not survive revelations that as governor of Arkansas he had commuted the long prison term of the now-dead Maurice Clemmons, suspected of gruesomely murdering four police officers in Lakewood, Wash.
This awful crime was about more than one politician's dreadful judgment. It may be been born years ago in an ungodly right-wing media intent on manipulating Christian conservatives. Whether involving the hard sciences, as in biology's theory of evolution, or the social sciences, such as criminal psychology, ringmasters of the right have encouraged some questionable tenets of religious fundamentalism -- when it suited their political purposes, that is.
Huckabee rejects both evolution and the research on criminal behavior, preferring to rely on easy interpretations of scripture and snap judgments of the heart. Anyone who meets the Arkansan, and I did twice, cannot help liking him. But he does have an annoying insistence on using faith-based insight to inform decisions better made through exhaustive study. I found this arrogant and lazy.
A former Southern Baptist minister, Huckabee believes strongly in the power of redemption. It was mostly on this basis that he granted clemency to more than 1,000 prisoners, 12 of them in for murder. Clemmons was hardly the first beneficiary of Huckabee's hunches about character.
In 1996, Huckabee had pressured Arkansas' parole board to release Wayne DuMond, who had 25 years left on his sentence for raping a teenager, but claimed to have found God. A year later, DuMond sexually attacked and murdered a woman in Missouri.
Conservatives are normally law-and-order types, but in the DuMond case, Huckabee enjoyed a tailwind of support from a far-right chorus. You see, the victim had been a third cousin of Bill Clinton, and her father had contributed to the then-president's campaigns. So creepy was Clinton hatred at the time that some elements of the national media vigorously championed the low-life who had violated a teen -- and whose release was opposed by the Arkansas Prosecuting Attorneys Association. They claimed that Clinton had framed DuMond.
An entire book flogged the preposterous charge. Baptist Pastor Jay Cost defended DuMond on his radio show. And conservative New York Post columnist Steve Dunleavy declared DuMond's imprisonment "a travesty of justice."
The belief that sinners can be redeemed by atoning for their transgressions is a good one. But when it comes to releasing violent criminals, that can be only one factor in a sea of facts. A governor or judge can't read what's really in a person's soul, and many criminals are crazy besides, Clemmons being an obvious example.
After the horror in Lakewood, Huckabee was quick to blame the criminal justice system in Washington state, as well as in Arkansas. True, state and local officials in Washington had let Clemmons back on the streets after he committed a string of crimes and court psychologists had deemed him a risk to public safety.
But Huckabee's request not to politicize this "horrible and tragic event" can't be entirely granted. Although Huckabee was right nine years ago in noting the tender age at which Clemmons had committed his crimes, the prisoner still had more than 90 years left stemming from convictions that included at least five felonies. While being tried in Arkansas, Clemmons was accused of trying to grab a court guard's gun, according to The Seattle Times.
Wayne DuMond's was among the earliest Huckabee pardons. One must wonder whether the right wing's support and political reward for it eased the way for the 10-year pardon spree that resulted in freedom for Maurice Clemmons. Could this nightmare have started with the obsession in "getting" Bill Clinton?
Froma Harrop's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.