Ethics Dunce: Arnold Schwarzenegger

  • Here’s what an ethical governor does with the power to pardon and commute sentences, when he believes a young man sentenced for his participation in a murder was sentenced too harshly:

Commute his sentence. It’s why he has the power in the first place.

  • Here’s an ethical  governor does if that young man happens to be the son of a close political ally and well-known politician:

Either commute the sentences of  everyone of a similar age and similarly serving an excessive sentence, or don’t commute the sentence of the young man.

  • Here’s what an ethical governor does if that young man happens to be the son of a close political ally, but he’s the only one whose sentence the governor wants to commute because he sincerely thinks he is the only one who deserves it, and the governor knows that much of the public will believe the commutation is just another example of cronyism and a double standard for the rich and connected:

Announce the commutation well before you leave office, and face the firestorm you know is coming.


  • Here’s what outgoing California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger did:

He waited until the final hours of his term, then commuted the sentence of the son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, Esteban Nuñez, who had pleaded guilty to participating in the killing of a college student. The governor did this while doling out a number of other political appointments to friends and allies, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind that the gift to young Nuñez was exactly as cynical and unjust as it appeared to be, an example of special treatment for the power elite.

It was a cowardly, irresponsible, thoroughly unfair abuse of power, but politics as usual, removing just a little more of the already paltry amount of  trust Americans have in their elected leaders.

7 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: Arnold Schwarzenegger

  1. I’m not a fan of Arnold’s, but I think you’re too tough on him. I think the kid was railroaded after taking a plea–the judge overruled the agreement because–so goes the LA scuttlebutt–because he didn’t want to be seen as soft on well-connected felons.

    • I didn’t say the commutation couldn’t be justified. I said that Arnold had an obligation not to commute the sentence in a way that made him look guilty of cronyism. You can’t believe that this was the only kid in the California system who had the book thrown at him—the only reason this kid got a break from the Governator was because of who his father was…and that’s what’s wrong with it.

  2. Here’s a clueless question. It seems to me that governors, Presidents, and — well — that crowd have a penchant for using the pardon power in a concentrated burst just before their elected terms end. If this impression is true, do almost all such actions represent farewell thank-you’s?

    If so, I agree with Bob that your’e being too harsh on the Terminator, but for different reasons. Except in the sense that anyone who perpetrates in unethical tradition has a duty to be a pioneer, in which case the same condemnation should apply to all of these people.

    If not, don’t we have a larger question that needs attention?

    • They do it at the end (of the year, like Obama or their term, like Clinton and Ahnold) out of laziness and cowardice. Before the 24-hour news cycle, nobody paid much attention to pardons and such—now it is a politically sensitive area. There is no reason why a Governor or POTUS shouldn’t be handing out pardons and commutations all year, in abundance, because there are abundant examples of people who deserve them….except that pardons generally tick off someone, and that means political heat. Check out the Pardon blog on the list of links. Wonderful blog, great insight on this issue.

  3. I am willing to be the sacrificial pardon czar for my governor or the president. I will sort through all of the pardon applications, wait until I have a few hundred worthy ones and have the executive sign off on all of them en-masse. When the press fury reaches its height, I can take full responsibility, be fired, and make way for the next sacrificial volunteer. The chief executive can claim that the stack was too large to be read in a reasonable amount of time, that they had to pardon them to see who they were pardoning, and that they shouldn’t have trusted me. How’s that for a completely unethical way to solve an unethical problem?

    On a scale of 0-10 for ethics, it is about a 0.5. On a scale of 0-10 for practicality, it is about a 5.

  4. The use of the pardon power by governors and presidents (especially at the last moment!) has become so recognized by the public as a political weapon- instead of the enlightened act of mercy which it as intended to be- that I seriously wonder if that power will be ultimately withdrawn over time. Clinton and Schwarzenegger have certainly done their parts in this regard. GWB contributed by withholding his from Border Patrol agents Ramon and Compeon, who were outrageously railroaded into prison during his administration. Political cowardice was the factor there. I guess there’s one positive facet of this. At least these executives- unlike their medieval forerunners- don’t have the concurrent “off with their heads” authority!

  5. The legal system is too kind to criminals. If anyone knifes or shoots you, they need to be in prison forever. Is this society suicidal, or, in want to be physically harmed by it’s wanting to let attackers free again? Screw em, let them rot in prison till death do us part. Arnold couldn’t even do that with his marriage vows.

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