Most of us meet folks and know the drill: how-do-you-do, what-do-you-do, and if what you do is interesting enough, then how-do-you-do-what-you-do. When you do what I do and you meet people who know what it is that you do, especially people who occasionally read what you do, then that part of the opening conversation takes the form of "When are the Republicans finally going to...?" Fill in the blank.
At that point, I offer a few vague remarks, somewhat self-deprecating, that go like this: "Well, I'm hardly the Republican Party's campaign manager... well, you don't see Republican officeholders calling to offer me high salaries to advise them... well, as a conservative I represent a set of ideas rather than a particular party..." If all the weaseling doesn't cool the hot seat, then I'll offer a mumbled half-opinion and run for the hills before they can roll out the long story about the brother-in-law who ran for County Clerk and lost by four votes.
But the next time the question ends with "....do something about getting more of the black vote?" I will be ready with a snappy comeback. You want to know the kind of move that would move some people to rethink their preconceived notion that Republicans don't care about black people? We all know that promoting qualified blacks like Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell, and Condoleezza Rice has not made a dent. We also know that loudly advocating shorter sentences for crack salesmen (not the kind that can sell ice in Alaska, the other kind) is crass and, incidentally, wrong.
What they need to do is to help a black person who is in a tight spot of his own making, but who also has a history of achievement in a meritocratic occupation, and who has owned up to his responsibility in a poignant way. Let me, then, be the first to initiate the grass-roots appeal to President Bush to pardon Michael Vick.
Mr. Vick was sentenced this week to nearly two years in Federal prison because of running dogfights. Is he our idea of a man who needs to be deprived of two years of freedom? He is a man who has honed an athletic skill to the level where only about thirty men in the entire country can compete. Conservatives and Republicans who promote the rewards of high achievement cannot fail to recognize the effort and dedication required to reach this plateau. Some innate physical characteristics contribute to success in athletics, but no one reaches the pinnacle without grueling commitment to excellence.
Once a person makes it to the top, with its attendant rewards of fame and fortune, life becomes a testing ground of character. Will that individual be haughty, imperious, narcissistic, hubristic, even abusive? Or will this man who earned the peak of a highly competitive field turn around and work to enhance the lives of others? In the case of Michael Vick, he has not been one whose path has been strewn with people callously discarded, as is the case with so many others.
Yet he behaved badly with dogs, hurting them for sport. This was very wrong. When caught, he delivered a statement of public contrition that far outpaced any disgraced politician of my recollection. He pled guilty and was sentenced quite severely. Now what?
If I am President Bush I address this case in a big way. I point out that a crime has been committed and all Americans are equal in the eyes of the law. I further point out that Mr. Vick has taken full responsibility in a clear, no-excuses, kind of way. I point out that he is a very accomplished athlete, that he has lost one year of play to suspension, that athletes only have limited years in which they can ply their skill, and I announce a pardon. The pardon is based on an understanding that Michael will undertake an extensive two-year tour of lecturing to students across the country about staying out of trouble and working hard to accomplish great things in life.
There will be some law-and-order purists, and some animal-rights fanatics, who will grumble. But we are not talking about a guy who will go out on a crime rampage. He is not even a threat to dogs at this point. Here is an opportunity to give a good guy a chance to repair his mess without sitting in jail. The message will get out to many people, more than you might think: conservatives are about giving everyone a chance, and where it is reasonable, a second chance as well.
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