Before he left office this year, President Bill Clinton granted 140 pardons. The media is whipping itself into a frenzy over a single pardon, but you’re not hearing much about any of the others. Let me tell you about one of those pardons.

Howard Mechanic (1948-) was a bearded, bushy haired senior at Washington University in St. Louis, MO in 1970 who was active in anti-Vietnam War protests. He was so active that he was one of several students cited by name in a court order prohibiting further campus demonstrations.

After the Kent State shootings, already inflamed campuses all over the country exploded into violence. Washington University’s ROTC building, one of 32 that burned across the nation in the wake of Kent State, was in flames, and firefighters showed up to hose it down. Some protesters threw firecrackers at them, but no one was injured. Mechanic was in the crowd, ignoring the court order, and he was arrested.

Mechanic served four months in jail for contempt of court for violating the court order. While in jail, the guards didn’t treat him kindly, and one threatened to kill him. Then Mechanic was brought up on federal charges of violating the 1968 Civil Obedience Act, an act prohibiting anyone from interfering with a cop or fireman during a "civil disorder". Prosecutors contended he lobbed a cherry bomb at the firefighters, something Mechanic denies to this day. During the trial, the prosecution paraded 19 witnesses through the court, proving that Mechanic was there, which no one denied, but nothing else. The star witness who saw the cherry bomb fly through the air refused to pin the act on Mechanic. Despite this, the judge decided to make an example of him and sentenced him to five years in prison. Today, that act would merit maybe community service, but this was the Richard Nixon era where the authorities specialized in repression.

Mechanic appealed for a year and a half. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case, and Mechanic was ordered to turn himself in to begin his sentence. Mechanic had already had a taste of life in prison and what was waiting for him there, so he skipped town instead. Under the name Gary Treadway, he settled in Phoenix, AZ, where the weather was hot but the politics weren’t.

Mechanic built a new life in Arizona. He married, had a son, got divorced, and later moved in with another partner. He worked his way up from being a stockboy at a health food store to owning his own businesses, a health food distributor and an apartment complex. He didn’t exactly stay out of the public eye, either. Instead, he was very prominent in political activism and community service. This isn’t unprecidented; a number of Vietnam era fugitives, even the famous Abbie Hoffman, led very public lives under new identities.

Mechanic’s undoing was something which in retrospect seems quite stupid: with a fake resume in hand, last year Gary Treadway ran for a seat on the city council of Scottsdale, AZ. A reporter named Penny Overton met with him for a standard candidate interview and profile. Mechanic was nervous and evasive, and confessed some of the truth to Overton in a second interview, begging her not to reveal it. Mechanic then released a statement claiming he had leukemia and dropped out of the race. Overton was offended by this lie and decided to uncover and reveal the truth about Mechanic. Mechanic was arrested and tossed in jail, but despite this he still got 1300 votes in the election.

Mechanic was freed from prison because of Clinton’s pardon. A man who was harshly sentenced for a crime he didn’t commit is now able to be with his parents and his family for the first time in 30 years. A man who has dedicated his life to public service doesn’t have to look over his shoulder in fear anymore thanks to Bill Clinton. Think about that when you get into a hissy fit over some White House furniture.
Update 3/20/01 (a response to a writeup which has since been deleted):

No one is above the law. Except for Republicans.

We blow $30 million dollars to investigate a blow job, but Ronald Reagan illegally deals with Middle Eastern terrorists and Central American military juntas, and no one cares. George Bush pardons witnesses against him in the Iran-Contra affair, and no one cares. Big donors to Bush Sr. also got pardons on his way out the Oval Office door, and no one cares. But god forbid, a bunch of illiterate movers take the wrong piece of furniture out of the White House, and the GOP is rounding up a lynch mob to hang Bill Clinton.

My point, which you obviously missed, is not that Clinton should be absolved of all wrongdoing simply because of a single pardon, or the countless good things he's done for this country during his term of office. I wrote it in a fit of anger, and perhaps the tone of my WU which you parodied was a bit too strident and earnest. But what I was angry about is this: Bill Clinton gets slammed for insignificant, irrelevant, or incorrect things, while he gets zero credit for the good things he did. The good may not absolve the bad, but at least the good deserves some airtime. While the so-called "liberal media" was berating him for the Marc Rich pardon, I found out about the Mechanic pardon because I saw his name on a list they flashed on the screen for an instant. I had to go to the alternative press and the internet to get the real story, which the media leaves uncovered.

As for the bad, I don't think this is the place for this argument, but I did bring it up in passing, so all's fair. The furniture "scandal" was a paperwork snafu, and if you really think Clinton needs to steal furniture when he has rich friends lining up to give him china and sofas and cheap home loans, you really need a big dose of perspective in your life. And the Marc Rich pardon may have been out of line, but I do think a case can be made for it, a case not being addressed at all in the media. Ehud Barak asked Clinton to pardon Rich for Rich's service to Israel, and considering that Barak went all out during the Middle East peace process, something that cost him the election, it wasn't that much to ask, really. And there is a somewhat convincing argument that Rich was the victim of an overblown and hysterical prosecution. Why didn't Clinton consult the prosecutor? Because he was Rudolph Giuliani, and if you think that Rudy never took things a little too far in his job, then there's no use trying to argue about this with you.
4/24: http://www.usdoj.gov/marshals/wanted/major-cases/mechanic.html. Check it out before the US Marshall's Service realizes that this ARMED AND DANGEROUS "extremeist" (sic) has been pardoned and they take the page down. He was actually on their "15 most wanted" list! I guess there weren't enough murderers, rapists, and drug dealers out there to make it up to 15.

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