President Obama has ended the war in Iraq -- heck, even W. probably wouldn't have screwed that up, although a "President McCain" probably would have -- and the coming months will reveal if he keeps his promise to also end the war in Afghanistan. But in his final 33 months in office, does Obama have the courage to end the longest of America's pointless wars, the "war on drugs"?
Yahoo! News reported today that Obama "wants to use his previously dormant pardon power as part of a larger strategy to restore fairness to the criminal-justice system. A senior administration official tells Yahoo News the president could grant clemency to 'hundreds, perhaps thousands' of people locked up for nonviolent drug crimes by the time he leaves office — a stunning number that hasn't been seen since Gerald Ford extended amnesty to Vietnam draft dodgers in the 1970s."
According to the Yahoo! piece, the clemency plan is so dramatic that the Obama administration would need to hire additional staff to carry it out. The office that processes pardon requests -- Obama has been criticized for doing more to pardon Thanksgiving turkeys than human prisoners -- would be overhauled, it reports. Official word could come this week.
Yahoo!, indeed. It's ironic that the article compares this possible peace maneuver in the drug war to the end of the Vietnam era, since you'd have to go back to the 1960s and '70s and the war in Southeast Asia to find another U.S. policy that was so bungled with such negative consequences for so long. The notion of draconian prison sentences, instead of drug rehab, for addicts and small-time users -- a policy implemented with extreme racial bias -- has destroyed lives, families, and even some neighborhoods. The billions that America has wasted on massive prisons while allowing neighborhood schools to crumble is a monument to the epic smallness of modern politics.
It's such a bold idea that I have a hard time seeing Obama actually carrying this out. The wailing from right-wing talk radio -- if it hasn't started already -- will be so loud that the submarines looking for that plane in the Indian Ocean will probably hear it. What's more, while Obama may be lamest of lame ducks after November's mid-terms, there's a number of Democrats -- one of them rhymes with "Billary Hinton" -- who are still terrified about even the chance of being called the party of acid, amnesty and abortion.
In his first five-and-a-half years, liberal fantasies that Obama would shut down Gitmo or halt the Keystone XL pipeline have proved to be mostly that...fantasies. My hunch is that this bland moderation is not Obama being political, but a case of Obama being Obama...an overly cautious man of the center-left with a capital "C." But, hey, he has two and a half years to surprise folks.