A Philosopher's Blog

Huckabee, Horton & Clemmons

Posted in Politics, Religion by Michael LaBossiere on December 2, 2009
Former Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee, speak...

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Jill Lawrence of Politics Daily has declared Michael Huckabee‘s 2012 presidential campaign DBA (Dead Before Arrival). This is based on the fact that Huckabee commuted Clemmon’s prison sentence in 2000. Clemmons allegedly murdered four police officers recently and the folks in the media have been quick to note the connection between the two men.

While one incident would be bad enough, Lawrence asserts that Huckabee has a pattern of making bad choices when it comes to commuting sentences (such as the case involving Dumond). Interestingly, no mention is made of any positive results from his commuting sentences.

What makes this incident so politically damaging is the fact that a similar  sort of disaster was used to attack Michael Dukakis. Folks who have been around a while will recall that while Dukakis was governor, the convicted murder Willie Horton raped a woman while on furlough from prison. The Willie Horton club was wielded quite effectively by the Republicans to beat down Dukakis. Obviously enough, the Democrats can easily pick up the club, dust it off, spray paint “Maurice Clemmons” over “Willie Horton” and commence beating.

This sort of attack would seem to be especially effective against a Republican. After all, Democrats are generally stereotyped as being soft on crime but Republicans are supposed to be tough on crime. As such, Huckabee would seem to be fatally wounded by this situation. Or so it would seem.

In the case of Dukakis, the Republicans were able to cast him as weak and soft on criminals because of this weakness. Huckabee, however, is presented as commuting sentences primarily based on his faith and his belief in redemption. That is, he tended to commute sentences because he believed that the individual had found religion and had been redeemed.

Interestingly, while folks on the American right generally believe in being tough on crime, those with religious leanings tends to also believe greatly in the power of redemption through faith. As such, Huckabee can be presented as not being weak on crime but being a true believer in the redemptive power of faith. As such, Huckabee’s mistakes can also be presented as failings on the part of the once-redeemed. In the case of Clemmons, he did not act until nine years after his sentence was commuted. This would certainly seem to mitigate some of Huckabee’s responsibility. While it is true that if Clemmons was still in prison, then he would not have killed the officers. However, it is not clear that Huckabee is responsible for how those nine years affected Clemons.

While Huckabee’s chances in 2012 have been damaged, I think it is premature to count him out. First, he can make use of the redemption angle to deflect attacks on him based on him being soft on crime. Second, he can apply damage control to the situation now and let it lose political beating power over the next three years.


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8 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on December 2, 2009 at 11:18 am

    Since we rely on clemency to correct errors in our criminal justice system, I think we should be careful about how we judge these issues.

  2. kernunos said, on December 2, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    I’m sure this isn’t the only case of granting clemency by Huckabee that will end up biting him in the ass. He did this with more than just Clemmons during his stint as Gov. This is definitely one of the issues where I don’t even closely agree with him. Both were obviously weak on criminals. Huckabee doesn’t even have a chance in hell in the next election anyway.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 3, 2009 at 6:48 pm

      Is he weak or is he vulnerable to claims of redemption (or something else)? Or are those two the same?

      • kernunos said, on December 3, 2009 at 9:02 pm

        The same.

  3. magus71 said, on December 3, 2009 at 2:40 am


    You’ve got this wrong. It was Republicans who decided they didn’t want Huckabee–and it was because he acted like a Democrat. Limbaugh calls him “The Huckster”. He knew he was a fraudulant conservative. He’d be a great “conservative” Democrat.

    So Republicans already knew about stuff like this.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 3, 2009 at 6:54 pm

      But, he still seemed to be very popular with mainstream Republicans. After all, he has solid pro-life credentials and does not believe in evolution.

      • kernunos said, on December 3, 2009 at 9:05 pm

        Maybe the Left Wing media will give him all kinds of favorable coverage like they did with McCain hoping he gets the nomination. Then they can pull the bait and switch.

  4. Quid Pro Gnome said, on December 3, 2009 at 10:54 pm

    Indeed. And as a democrat and a believer in the redemptive power of the law (and frankly, I’m not even religious) I find it inconsistent that my fellow dem’s are trying to assign blame to Huckabee. Firstly, the guy has total deniability, given both the context of his pardon (pardoning a sixteen year old purse snatcher sentenced to 108 years!) and how the intervening years affected Clemmons. So by pressing the argument, all they’re doing is undermining the concept of legal mercy, hardly a conservative concept.

    I live in Seattle, and frankly I think what you’re seeing here is a whole lot of Washington politicians and legal professionals trying to pass the buck to Arkansas. I mean, the sad truth about a crime like this is that no one has, or had, any predictive mechanism for anticipating it. But the fact that some dem’s are willing to act like they possess such a mechanism in order to blame Huckabee while hazarding an important legal concept—well, it may simply be the media politics of slime-the-conservative, but that doesn’t mean it’s not totally freaking low.

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