No one who has watched Democrats in action over the past couple of decades should be surprised at the lame-duck congressional majority’s omnibus gambit unveiled on Tuesday.
Soon to be former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid somehow couldn’t pass a fiscal 2011 budget when they were supposed to, i.e., before October 1, the beginning of the fiscal year. This craven accountability avoidance was deliberately designed to protect threatened Democratic incumbents ahead of November’s midterm elections. It probably worked in some cases; the last thing the dozen or so Democrats who barely survived would have needed was to be tied to a laundry list of porky pet projects like the 6,488-earmark monstrosity that was under consideration at the time of this column’s submission.
Nonetheless, the 63-seat swing to the GOP in the House, and to a lesser extent the party’s six-seat pickup in the Senate, have left Democrats deathly afraid that the new Congress might actually carry through with the wishes of its newly elected representatives and attempt to get a grip on out-of-control spending, stop ObamaCare from being funded, and end other senseless and ineffective initiatives. Faced with what may well turn out to be the end of an era, they’re attempting to do what soon to be out of office Dems have historically done: milk the remaining time for all it’s worth, and take actions they would never dare if they had to face the voters again.
Lame-duck mischief is indeed a time-honored Democratic Party tradition.
In Ohio in late 1990, outgoing Governor Dick Celeste, who was about to be replaced by Republican George Voinovich, turned his attention to the crimes of others with the intent of minimizing convicted inmates’ well-deserved penalties for their heinous acts. Celeste granted a total of 68 clemencies. Among them were commutations of the sentences of eight death row inmates to life without parole and pardons for 26 women who blamed their crimes on Battered Woman’s Syndrome, and for country singer Johnny Paycheck, who had received a seven-year sentence “for shooting a man in Hillsboro, Ohio, after he fired a .22 pistol, grazing the man’s head with a bullet.”
The most notorious person spared the ultimate penalty was Debra Brown, the partner-in-crime of Alton Coleman. Together, the couple was responsible for seven murders in six Midwestern states during the summer of 1984. Brown’s excuse was that she was in a “master/slave” relationship. That’s an odd claim, because months after being separated from her alleged master, she wrote a note to her trial judge which read in part: “I killed the bitch and I don’t give a damn. I had fun out of it.” Dick Celeste still didn’t think Debra Brown deserved to die.
Another Celeste commutation beneficiary was Teresa Bickerstaff, who “shot her mother and two younger brothers, then torched the house.” As to the pardons, the left-leaning Akron Beacon-Journal wrote: “[P]rosecutors seem justified in complaining that Celeste overreached to let some out from behind bars.”
Celeste appears to have calculated that the fallout from his controversial moves would fade from memory. As far as Ohio’s Democrats were concerned, he was wrong. A turned-off electorate enabled Republicans to dominate the state for the next 16 years (in retrospect, they dominated too much, turning into complacent RINOs in the process). The next three Democratic candidates for governor were buried in landslides. If it weren’t for an overhyped Taft administration coin-investment scandal — overhyped because, as it turns out, very little if any money was ultimately lost — Democrats might still be in the Buckeye State wilderness. Perhaps that’s where they’ll return if just-elected Republican Governor John Kasich legitimately turns around Ohio, something one-term embittered loser Ted “Shadow Government” Strickland utterly failed to do.
Getting back to Celeste, it took him a while, but he finally figured out that his leniency spree effectively ended his electoral career. He has since headed to academia as the president of Colorado College.
If Ohio’s Tricky Dick had done what he did a decade later, things might have turned out differently. After all, it was in January 2001 that outgoing President Bill Clinton issued hundreds of pardons and commutations, many of which had no basis in anything beyond pure partisanship, political payoffs, or both. Those who can remember the details of that sordid chapter in history will note that the most infamous pardons at the Justice Department’s link (e.g., Marc Rich) are the ones containing no descriptions of their nature. Instead of suffering any kind of political penalty, Clinton, correctly described as the ARIFPPOTUS (the Accused Rapist and Impeached Former President of the United States), is a Democratic folk hero, a millionaire many times over, and the darling of a still-fawning establishment press.
Thanks to this year’s crop of lame-duck Dems, the normally slow-news final weeks of December will require vigilant attention. In between sips of eggnog, yours truly will be keeping one eye on the “earmarks gone wild” goings-on in Washington, where congressional Democrats and a few RINO Republicans seem determined to administer a fiscal death sentence to the nation, and the other on the aforementioned Strickland, who has received 1,200 requests for clemency.