I've gone to several blogs over the past several days that have addressed President Bush's handling of the Scooter Libby sentence. What I've noticed, mostly from anonymous commentators, because the anonymous usually are the loudest and most ignorant, wishing to spew bile without anyone knowing who they are, is that there are a couple basic arguments that are going through the system in defense of the President.
First - "The President has absolute power to grant pardons." Yes. That is true. Under Article II, Section 2, Clause 1, the President "shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment." However, Libby was not pardoned. His prison sentence was commuted. To clarify that he was not pardoned, the president himself has said that he has not ruled out pardoning Libby at a later time. This means, necessarily, that President Bush did not use his Pardoning power. Perhaps is granted a reprieve, but that seems to be more a matter of semantics, and there seems to still be a potentially legitimate question as to the Constitutionality of the President's act, though most people also seem to agree that it is within his power.
Second - "Clinton granted 450 pardons" aka the Clinton did it too defense. I feel it would be remiss to let this defense go without noting that this administration rode into Washington under the premise that it would "restore honor to the White House," that Bush would be a different President, a better President, than Clinton was. It boggles my mind how on the one hand, the President can express a desire to be better than his predecessor while on the other, his supporters insist that people should not criticize his actions because "Clinton did it, too." It rings hollow, and does not address the fact that President Bush is a poor President.
Third - "Congress's approval ratings are worse than the President's. They should just shut up." This is apparently true, according to recent polls. But what it fails to mention is that Congress' approval ratings are as low as they are because, in the minds of many Americans, Congress has not done enough to pull in the reins on President Bush, and they view this Congress as weak in the face of the President. This isn't a dislike of the "Democrat Congress," it's a dislike of the "Do nothing to stop an unpopular President and an unpopular war-stonewalling Congress." Ultimately, the digust goes back to the President.
Perhaps the act of commuting Libby's sentence would not be so difficult to swallow on the premise of the President's explanation if he had used his authority and discretion a little more prior to now. According to the internet research I've done (admittedly cursory), while he was Governor of Texas, President Bush pardoned 19 people, six of whom proved their innocence, something Libby didn't do. He has pardoned 113 as president, as of March 11 2007. All the while, the president has expressed as his rationale the importance of the rule of law and the decisions reached by the people. That is what makes the pre-incarceration sentencing of Libby all the more bizarre and seemingly hypocritical, and reeks of cronyism.
President Bush isn't the first president to be unpopular. He's also not the first president to engage in apparent (or outright) cronyism. That said, it doesn't make it right, and it doesn't do anything but preserve a few popularity points from his base. But, when you're near the bottom, you do what you must to keep from hitting it, regardless of how it looks.