The XX Factor

Is Huckabee to Blame?

While I was covering Mike Huckabee for a profile in 2008, people kept insisting that he wasn’t your “typical politician.” This was true in some ways. He was terrible at raising money. As governor he took positions with no conceivable political payoff; he supported the funding of college aid for the children of undocumented immigrants, for example, a position not terribly popular among mainstream Republicans in the recent past. He spoke against a “revenge-based corrections system.” He commuted prison sentences and weathered the ensuing scandal. Little of this idiosyncrasy survived when Huckabee began to aim for the White House, but it had been there when the stakes were lower.

Now one of the men he helped to free stands accused of killing four cops in a Seattle suburb, and Huckabee is getting grilled by lock-’em-up types like Michelle Malkin. Liberals are piling on , too. Like Ta-Nehisi Coates , I think this is unfortunate. Huckabee saw a kid who had gone on a crime spree at the age of 16-burglary, robbery, possession of a firearm. Clemmons had been handed a 95-year sentence before he was old enough to buy cigarettes. Huckabee felt, not unreasonably, that this punishment was unduly harsh. A five-member state board unanimously recommended that the sentence be commuted, and Huckabee’s decision made Clemmons eligible for parole. Anarchy! Clemmons served 11 years for his crimes. He spent his 20s in jail.

Maybe Huckabee was blinded by his faith; maybe his commutation process was flawed. He’s certainly paying for it now, as cable news declares his political prospects doomed. But to ask a question beloved by law-and-order Republicans, what kind of message does this send? No politician has anything to gain by giving a second chance to a poor kid who had a rough start in life. It’s a check on prosecutorial excess that only works if a governor or president is willing to take a risk. The downsides, if the released convict returns to crime, are all very material. The upsides are moral and personal. It’s unclear why liberals would wish to tip the scales even further in favor of the former.