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December 28, 2010

Obama praises giving Michael Vick a second chance (while failing himself to help the less prominent)

As reported in this new piece in the Washington Post, President Obama this week apparently has spoken out in support of one of the nation's most prominent felons (who is already having an especially successful experience with reentry):

On Monday, the buzz was about how the president had weighed in on the redemption of Michael Vick.  Obama phoned the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles to praise the team for giving a second chance to the quarterback, who is again a National Football League star 19 months after leaving prison for his role in a horrific dogfighting ring that killed pit bulls by electrocution, hanging and drowning.

The president has not spoken publicly about the call, though aides acknowledged that it took place.  But Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie told Peter King of Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports that during their conversation Obama was passionate about Vick's comeback.

"He said, 'So many people who serve time never get a fair second chance,' " said Lurie, who did not indicate when the call occurred.  "He said, 'It's never a level playing field for prisoners when they get out of jail.'  And he was happy that we did something on such a national stage that showed our faith in giving someone a second chance after such a major downfall.''

Bill Burton, a White House spokesman, said Obama "of course condemns the crimes that Michael Vick was convicted of, but, as he's said previously, he does think that individuals who have paid for their crimes should have an opportunity to contribute to society again." Burton added that Obama called Lurie in part to discuss plans for the use of alternative energy at Lincoln Financial Field, where the Eagles play....

Obama's supporters welcome his interest in matters beyond the customary arenas of policy and politics.  "He's not only leader of the government but also a role model and a moral voice for the country," said Neera Tanden, a former Obama adviser who is now chief operating officer for the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington think tank. "And that is why he's discussed the role of parents as their children's first teachers, chastised absent fathers, as well as commented on issues that raise ethical concerns in the culture, outside of politics."

I am pleased and not really surprised that President Obama is happy to see Michael Vick getting a second chance and making the most of it following his federal conviction and sentence. But I remain deeply displeased and somewhat surprised that Obama is now talking this talk in a high-profile setting without walking the walk in the exercise of his clemency authority.

President Obama can (and should) help level the playing field via clemency grants for many former federal prisoners, and doing so would have great symbolic impact as a role model and a moral voice for the country. Too bad Obama has largely decided to stay mute in this arena for nearly all of his presidency.

December 28, 2010 at 08:56 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Respectfully, I think that President Obama is carefully treading on uncertain waters politically. I think that this phone call was a way to get opponents of sentencing reform to see that redemption is possible. I believe that Obama has a plan for getting relief to the thousands of Federal prisoners serving unjust sentences. If you look at what has taken place in the two years in which Obama has been President, there has been drastic reform. The Federal Government has not moved this fast in reference to criminal drug law EVER...Obama could not just drastically let them off of the hook. He is doing everything in concert with the USSC, DOJ, and the Supreme Court. Believe me, he will do the right thing.

Posted by: Kerri Jones | Dec 28, 2010 10:32:33 AM

If Obama was serious about "second chances", he would, as Professor Berman suggests, "level the playing field via clemency grants for many former federal prisoners". He would also openly support legislation such as Congressman Cohen's H.R.5492 the Fresh Start Act, which would allow certain first time non-violent offenders, who meet all of the requirements of the legislation, to make application to their original sentencing court for consideration of expungement of their felony conviction. Many have lived exemplary lives for many years after a one time mistake yet must continue to suffer what amounts to a civil death sentence.

Sadly, I think that this is nothing more than grandstanding by Obama well after the obvious fact that Vick has had a good season. If there was real "compassion", why was the phone call not made at the beginning of the season when half of the planet still considered Vick scum? I really hope that Kerri Jones is right and I am wrong on this one. Time will tell.

Posted by: Thomas K | Dec 28, 2010 11:59:35 AM

The Fresh Start Act flopped in the last Congress, which was the most liberal in decades. Readers can judge for themselves how likely it is to succeed in the new Congress under Chairman Lamar Smith and Speaker Boehner.

As to Vick: Congratulations to him. It is difficult to judge at such a distance whether and to what extent he has had a true change of heart, but from what I have been able to see, his behavior and his attitude have been good. He is a wonderfully talented athlete and his play has brought excitement and entertainment to millions of football fans (including me).

I might note that Vick has made his way back pretty much on his own. The most important factor in rehabilitation is the defendant's attitude and desire to change. It seems that Vick had the desire. Good for him, and more power to him.

As for President Obama, why do I think he's just grandstanding as the NFL playoffs are about to begin?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 28, 2010 2:00:09 PM

Bill, I agree that the defendant's attitude and desire to change are central to sucessful rehabilitation. However, the Vick situation demonstrates that the most important factor may simply be the willingness on the part of another to give a ex-con an opportunity to be productive according to his or her talents. Obviously, Vick's set of skills are unusual, and this may have had a great impact on why he was given a shot at a second chance. Sadly, most people getting out of prison will not be in the same boat.

KRG

Posted by: KRG def attny | Dec 28, 2010 4:29:51 PM

"The Fresh Start Act flopped in the last Congress, which was the most liberal in decades."

I guess that would be one way to put it but in fact "Congress" never had a chance to consider the bill one way or the other as it was never even given a hearing in the Subcommittee on Crime chaired by Bobby Scott. No doubt that the future of such legislation will be very dark once the "tough on crime" crowd resumes control.

There are many ex-offenders, like Vick, who have "made it on their own" when someone was willing to give them the opportunity. There are many more who neither want or need taxpayer funded programs who would be successful at that endeavor but for the road blocks placed by current policy.

Posted by: Thomas K | Dec 28, 2010 6:53:49 PM

President Obama and other Republicans/Democrats are cowards when it comes to giving 2nd chances. There are thousands who deserve that second chance, wonder if they might get noticed if they could shine on the ole grid iron??

Posted by: Anon | Dec 28, 2010 7:25:20 PM

The bleeding heart liberals are raising hell over this.

Posted by: George | Dec 28, 2010 9:25:53 PM

I wonder if this would be a news item if Vick were having a bad year, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns, yelling at people on the sidelines and the Eagles had a losing record. Machiavelli is cheering from Hell :-)

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