Isaac Toussie

December 26, 2008

Isaac Toussie is hardly a household name in our country, but he’s getting his 15 minutes of fame as a result of a pardon taken back. Mr. Toussie was convicted in 2001 and 2002; both convictions related to fraud arising out of home loans to poor people. Apparently, the pardon was granted before the White House knew Mr. Toussie’s father had donated $28,500 to the Republican Party and $2300 to John McCain. (These donations would mean less if Toussie pere had been a regular donor to Republican causes; apparently, he wasn’t.) Allegedly, when the President learned about the donations, he said: “not on my watch.”

The people who talk and write are in an uproar, comparing this event to the Marc Rich pardon at the end of the Clinton Administration and other pardon scandals. (With the nomination of Eric Holder–who played a role in the Rich pardon–to be Attorney General, the Rich situation was already getting plenty of attention.) Lawyers are debating the right to withdraw a pardon, referencing a case from the 1860s and debating the interplay between the Constitution and a pardon “bureaucracy” the Constitution never contemplated. Others focus on the political aspects, with one observer believing Karl Rove must have played a role in the “do over,” as message control hasn’t been what it was when Mr. Rove ran things.

With respect (the commentators get paid to comment and I don’t), the noise machine is missing the point. Who cares, really, that the Bush Administration is mopping up a mess less than four weeks before Barack Obama takes over? And, while the legal issues are interesting, Mr. Toussie has already served his sentence and, thus, who really cares if he goes through life as a convicted felon or not?

The real issue here relates to priorities. This Bush Administration has been more parsimonious with pardons than any recent President who served more than one term. (Ronald Reagan used the power rarely, as compared with his predecessors, yet he granted more than twice as many pardons and commutations as has President Bush.) Yet the powers that be decided, in the face of what looks like the worst financial crisis since the Great Depresssion, to pardon a man whose crimes relate directly to the primary cause of the fix we’re in: the housing bubble and dishonest lending. Mr. Toussie roped poor people into bad loans with lies and, to make matters worse, they got houses that were falling apart. Bear in mind, in all of this, that he was prosecuted by the United States of America while the Bushies were in charge. This guy must have been a bad dude to be noticed by an Administration committed to the free market and caveat emptor.

In sum, the noise about withdrawing a pardon dominates, while we really ought to be asking this question: Why, with a group of people in charge who see little reason to forgive anyone, did someone/anyone think Isaac Toussie deserved a Presidential pardon?

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