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Carney: Obama's quality of mercy is surprisingly strained

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Photo - WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 21:  U.S. President Barack Obama (R) approaches the 2012 National Thanksgiving Turkey Cobbler as National Turkey Federation Chairman Steve Willardsen (2nd L) and handler Bob Evans (L) hold the turkey during a Rose Garden turkey pardon event November 21, 2012 at the White House in Washington, DC. Cobbler and its companion Gobbler will spend the rest of their lives at George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens in Virginia.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 21: U.S. President Barack Obama (R) approaches the 2012 National Thanksgiving Turkey Cobbler as National Turkey Federation Chairman Steve Willardsen (2nd L) and handler Bob Evans (L) hold the turkey during a Rose Garden turkey pardon event November 21, 2012 at the White House in Washington, DC. Cobbler and its companion Gobbler will spend the rest of their lives at George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens in Virginia. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Politics,Timothy P. Carney,Campaign 2012,Politics Digest

Cobbler the turkey doesn't realize how lucky he is: A pardon from President Obama is a pretty rare thing. In fact, Obama has been pretty sparse with any sort of leniency in the realm of criminal justice. If not quite a hanging judge, he's not the sort of arbiter a convicted man wants to see on sentencing day.

Obama has been more stingy with pardons and commutations than any of his recent predecessors. He has deported people at a faster rate than any president in history. He has continued the war on drugs, including a harsh crackdown on marijuana. He has also backed away from his promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, where he continues George W. Bush's policies of detaining terrorist suspects indefinitely without formal charges.

"They say that life is all about second chances," Obama said as he pardoned Cobbler at Thanksgiving. "And this November, I could not agree more." Obama was referring to his own second chance -- a second term.

But apparently Katie Barribeau didn't deserve the same second chance Obama and Cobbler both got. A decade ago, Barribeau helped her boyfriend mail Ecstasy into the United States from a military base in Germany. She was 22 years old at the time. The nonprofit journalism group ProPublica reported: "Confronted by military investigators, she immediately confessed and cooperated. In exchange for her assistance, she was sentenced to five years of probation and a $1,000 fine for conspiracy to import ecstasy."

Barribeau applied for a pardon that would wipe her criminal record clean, enable her to visit Canada for the company where she is a manager, and maybe allow her husband and her to adopt a child. But Obama's Justice Department recommended against a pardon, and Obama in turn denied the pardon.

This is the norm. Obama has granted pardons and commutations far less frequently than any of his recent predecessors, ProPublica found earlier this month. It seems Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were softies compared with Obama.

Obama also has deported more illegal immigrants than any other president. While he earned praise -- and votes -- for his election-season policy temporarily halting the deportation of students illegally in the U.S., he has kept the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division busy: Bush doubled Bill Clinton's deportations from 9,000 a month to 21,000, Obama has now increased that number by 57 percent to 33,000 a month. That's more than 1,000 immigrants per day.

When his administration isn't deporting illegal immigrants, it's zealously enforcing drug laws. Ask Chaddwick McKeen, who operated a medical marijuana business that was legal under California law. Regardless, federal drug cops raided McKeen's home, and he soon "found himself handcuffed, his belongings seized, and his business shuttered," as Daily Beast writer Winston Ross put it. Obama's Justice Department has raided dozens of pot dispensaries operating within the confines of California's law.

Voters in Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana earlier this month. Other states could follow in the next couple of years. But if Obama's Drug Enforcement Agency and DOJ continue their enforcement practices, the state referendums could become effectively meaningless.

During a 2012 visit to South America, where it's easiest to see the drug war's costs -- in lives and dollars -- Obama flatly refused to consider decriminalization, which could defuse the violence around illegal smuggling.

As a candidate, Obama railed against the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, where Bush held terrorism suspects without charges and denied them the right to challenge the legality of their detention. The 2008 Democratic platform included a plank pointedly upholding this right: "We will respect the time-honored tradition of habeas corpus." Obama promised to close Guantanamo.

Guantanamo is still up and running. Obama's point man on closing the prison, White House Counsel Greg Craig, quit the administration early, reportedly in protest. In 2011, Obama abandoned his plans to try terrorism suspects in regular courts, opting instead for secretive military courts. This year, the administration pushed new rules restricting lawyers' access to inmates. And the 2012 Democratic platform removed the plank about respecting habeas corpus.

Obama's reluctance to grant clemency, his eagerness to deport illegal immigrants, his insistence on cracking down on pot and continuing the war on drugs, and his adoption of Bush's war-on-terror tactics -- these have never taken center stage in the public debate.

But these policies are a big deal if you're an ex-con, an illegal immigrant, a medical-marijuana seller or a Guantanamo detainee. Unlike Cobbler the Turkey, they have not received mercy from President Obama.

Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.

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