In my vivid imagination, the folks who write editorials at the New York Times wake up in the middle of the night, sweaty and afraid that someone will point out the hypocrisy in their teary-eyed editorials that defy reason and facts, screaming aloud “cognitive dissonance.” Then again, it’s not as if their readers know or care about the games they play. After all, much as they fancy themselves smart, snugly wrapped in the college degrees, they won’t put in the effort to think any harder than anyone else.
When New York’s pseudo-progressive governor, Andy Cuomo, met with the former radical sentenced to 75 years in prison for the 1981 Brinks heist, Judith Clark, she “touched his heart.” Aww. Who knew Andy even had a heart. The Times folks hugged and cried. Sad stories can do that to empathetic people.
Andy commuted Clark’s sentence, which is a perfectly wonderful thing to do. So why carp? First, because it was a sham commutation.
Her only hope of getting out during her lifetime was a grant of clemency from the governor, a power Mr. Cuomo had almost never exercised in nearly six years in office.
Maybe he was too busy vetoing reform laws. But this time was different. He commuted her sentence to 35 years, but that doesn’t mean she gets out, only that she’s now eligible for parole.
Mr. Cuomo said he was not worried about paying a political price for commuting Ms. Clark’s sentence. “I’ve gotten to a point where if I can sleep at night, I’m happy,” he said. “I can sleep at night with this. I believe showing mercy and justice and compassion and forgiveness is the right signal. You can’t make ‘them’ happy. You live your life by ‘them’ and you’re lost.”
While Andy is standing before the cameras, chin up in his best “fight the man” pose, only one little detail was missed by the Timesfolk. He is the man. And they love him so much for it.
Instead of using his commutation authority to cut her loose, he used it to throw her to the wolves of the Parole Board. Yes, that Parole Board, the one that has burned deserving parolee after deserving parolee. But then, this was Andy’s pick of good parolee. And the Parole Board is made up entirely of Andy’s picks people who were sufficiently loyal to him or the party to deserve a paycheck.
In the best empathetic fashion, with the omission of all salient facts, the Times notes that Clark’s moment of truth is at hand. Will she be freed?
Executive clemency is one way to alleviate harsh punishments, but it’s always dependent on the whims of a given governor or president. Parole can be a more reliable way of determining whether an inmate is ready for release. Parole, if used properly, can offer prisoners an incentive to be productive in the time spent behind bars. But too often, the possibility of getting parole is a mirage.
Such a gentle way of saying that the Parole Board in New York is the most notorious, outrageous, cruel, vicious cesspool of abuse in the system. Cuomo knows it. Everybody in the system knows it. Even the Timesfolk know it. So why is it they mention nothing in their editorial about how Cuomo let John MacKenzie die in prison awaiting parole?
In New York, the Parole Board has long placed too much weight on the nature of the original offense, and not enough on the efforts of the prisoner to atone and improve his or her life. Some Parole Board members continue to take this unfair approach even after state lawmakers clarified the factors they must consider, like how much public-safety risk an inmate would pose if released.
Are they naive, clueless or lying? Is the problem with the Parole Board that nobody told them their job, the factors to consider, that they aren’t absolute dictators, Super Judges who get to do whatever they please? And that there is one, and only, person to whom they answer?
Mr. Cuomo’s grants of clemency should be a sign to board members that part of their job is to give deserving people a second chance if they show that they have changed and grown in prison.
A sign? Andy doesn’t need to send them a message. He can tell them. He appoints them. They serve because he put them there. Andy can pick up the phone any time he wants and yell, “hey, stop being an asshole or you’re out.” But in the world of the deeply empathetic, signs are the magic ways emotions are conveyed. Maybe the governor’s telephone is broken? There is a message for the Parole Board here: save the one prisoner Andy likes.
But what of Cuomo’s half-assed commutation, if he really wanted to make sure Judith Clark walked out of prison? And what of the hundreds of thousands of other prisoners, each of whom will go into Cuomo’s Parole Board star chamber. Will Andy meet with each of them and see who touches his heart?
Such a sweet story about Clark and empathetic messages sent by New York’s chief progressive to his minions. Kinda makes you tear up and adore Andy for his sad tears. That’s must be what the Timesfolk are aiming for when they write an editorial about sending signs to the Parole Board, because they know too well that it’s all a sham.
Andy can fix all of this any time he wants. He can commute sentences whenever the mood strike. He can appoint anybody he wants to the Parole Board. But does the cognitive dissonance of promoting their favorite son and deliberately conveying the false sense that he’s doing the best he can make the Timesfolk wake up screaming in the middle of the night? I hope so. I doubt it.