Among the many divergences from the theories and principles of the American Founding wrought by progressivism is the very nature of the presidency. Originally conceived as a limited office chiefly concerned with (domestically, at least) little more than the fair and effective execution of the laws, progressives such as President Theodore Roosevelt transformed the nation’s understanding of the presidency into an office charged with “bound actively and affirmatively to do all he could for the people,” free to do anything not explicitly forbidden by the Constitution.
If anything, President Barack Obama sees his job in an even more expansive light than Roosevelt. At the Daily Beast, Mansfield Frazier opines Obama’s injecting himself into, of all things, the redemption of football player Michael Vick:
“So many people who serve time never get a fair second chance,” Obama reportedly told the owner of Vick’s football team, the Philadelphia Eagles. “…It’s never a level playing field for prisoners when they get out.”
The Eagles signed Vick after he served 19 months in prison for running a dogfighting operation, and by praising the team’s owner for giving the quarterback a second chance, the president is broaching a subject that’s sure to be polarizing. As states across the U.S. struggle with looming budget deficits, Obama perhaps realizes the timing may be right to address what he has called the country’s “incarceration and post-incarceration crisis” and remove barriers that inhibit successful prisoner reentry by offering former offenders an opportunity to reclaim their lives and a modicum of dignity.
Frazier lauds Obama for potentially “creating an opening for a national discussion on opportunities for former prisoners.” I don’t deny that the presidency is more than dry administrating—one of the reasons George Washington was chosen as our first president and remembered as the Father of our Country was his capacity for moral example and inspiration. Accordingly, I’m not as outraged as some might be that Obama would weigh in on the subject of rehabilitating former criminals.
But Michael Vick? Really? There’s something absurd about Obama using this particular case to take a stand. For one thing, we’re not talking about someone who fits the Left’s usual profile of a down-on-his-luck sap “forced” into crime by his socio-economic plight, but a very well-paid star in the NFL. For another, Vick’s crime wasn’t petty theft, drug possession, disorderly conduct, or the like, but forcing dogs to fight and kill one another for sport and profit.
Such cruelty is in another league entirely. Vick can say he’s sorry until he’s blue in the face, but that’s a far cry from meaning it. I don’t know whether or not a 23-month prison sentence cleansed his soul and made him a better man, and neither does Obama. Richard Cohen nails it:
He was wantonly cruel, not only pitting dogs against one another in fights, but drowning poor performers. Didn’t he know this was cruel? Didn’t he know wounded dogs were in pain? Is he so stupid he didn’t notice the blood, the torn skin, the…? […]
Vick got a second chance not because he deserves it but because he can play football. This is the lesson we can all take from this sorry episode. It’s one thing to be sorry. It’s much better to hit your man in the end zone.
Michael Vick is free because he has paid his debt to society. Whether or not the rest of society wishes to make new transactions with him is another matter entirely; he is not owed new dealings. And the President of the United States is certainly not the nation’s arbiter of who has been redeemed or deserves second chances. Barack Obama can read neither minds nor hearts; yet he apparently not only thinks he can, but that he’s entitled to do so, even in the most perverse cases.