John Kass’s column in Sunday‘s Tribune touched me as greatest hits collections often do—as a reminder of good times past and a melancholy concession that the artist has nothing new to say.
The question Kass raised was whether President Obama would or should pardon Hillary Clinton. It’s a question complicated by reality, since so far there is nothing to pardon her for—Clinton not actually being charged let alone convicted of any crimes.
However, it’s argued that unless Obama steps in, Clinton is certain to be handed over to the mob.
And not just by Kass, who we’ll get back to in a minute. For instance, Bloomberg’s Paula Dwyer had this to say:
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal after he was elected, Trump didn’t list prosecuting Clinton among his priorities. [He’d later say the same thing to the New York Times.] Still, half the country now worries, and the other half hopes, that Trump will make good on his threat. More likely, he’ll contract the job out to House Republicans salivating over the prospect of televised hearings, starting with Clinton raising her right hand, then taking the Fifth over and over again.
So should President Barack Obama pardon her, preempting the GOP’s plans for four years of show trials?
Rudolph Giuliani, mentioned as a possible attorney general [this was written before Donald Trump said he’d nominate Senator Jeffrey Sessions to that post], has already warned Obama off a pardon, while revealing to Fox News his firm belief that Obama and Clinton “have completely corrupted the Justice Department and the State Department” and predicting her inevitable indictment.
To assess the wisdom, legality and politics of a pardon, this is where to begin: The incoming administration already has its mind made up that she committed crimes and should be prosecuted. Given that, Obama shouldn’t hesitate to pardon her—even if she says she doesn’t want him to.
My own view is that Dwyer has it wrong. Four years of show trials by rabid Republicans would allow Clinton to demonstrate again what the interminable Benghazi hearings already demonstrated: an inexhaustible capacity to smile pleasantly for hours on end and not give an inch to foaming inquisitors. Those trials would be a lot more likely to humiliate than gratify the GOP.
On the assumption Clinton is facing a lot of time on her hands over the next four years, I’d like to see her tell Sessions, Bring it on! If the Republicans can’t content themselves with beating her on Election Day, they’ll make themselves look like authoritarian thugs and vengeful infants. They’ll turn Clinton into what she’s never been: a progressive hero.
Kass didn’t get into any of that. He poked around in old ashes for a few hundred words we’d all read many times before, pushing a toe against charred hickory that hasn’t held a fire in years. Once again Obama was the inconsequential “back bencher” in a legislature “steeped in cynicism and the Chicago Way” who made “hopium-smoking pundits of the left” get “weepy-eyed” when he was elected eight years ago. How could he now square pardoning Clinton with his promise to “transcend” the “cynical, broken politics of the past”? Were those just words, “pretty songs crafted by people like David Axelrod”? (Kass has long been under the impression that Obama at some point emerged fully formed from one of Axelrod’s test tubes.)
As arguments go—for pardoning Clinton or not, or for there being an actual case that would require a pardon in the first place—Kass never quite got to the point of making one. But I got the impression that, in Kass’s eyes, Obama would reveal himself to be a squalid political hack should he pardon Clinton.
Still, devout right-wing conspiracy theorists want to lock her up for all sorts of newly conjured bogus and imagined reasons. The Tuesday New York Times tells us that Michael G. Flynn—son and chief of staff of Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s choice to be his national security adviser—has helped spread the word that once Trump is sworn in, Obama and Clinton will both be tried for treason for allegedly secretly profiting from the war in Syria—an outrageous conspiracy theory.
Another fake news hoax that General Flynn helped promote, according to the Times: Clinton controls a ring of child sex slaves centered on Comet Ping Pong, a pizzeria in Washington, D.C. The complete lack of any evidence that such a ring exists is interpreted by adherents as proof of its sophistication and of the treachery of debunkers. Over the weekend a “concerned citizen” from North Carolina drove six hours to Comet Ping Pong and opened fire with an assault rifle, hoping to free the children he didn’t find there.
If Obama pardoned Clinton for these fabricated offenses, would Kass cut him a little slack? We just don’t know. Kass simply replayed his favorite dusties and called it a day. Soon it will be time for him to leave the past behind, and we’ll find out if there’s anything in particular that troubles Kass about the next president.
This post has been updated to correct an error introduced by editing.