I was planning this post yesterday, but other events intervened. I woke up this morning to see that Corey had already written my post, but with the opposite conclusion. Corey’s 1905 analogy is a good one. Obama is not a “good father standing above the fray”, but the ruler who gives orders to Cossacks like Carmen M. Ortiz. The vindictive pursuit of Aaron Swartz is of a piece with the Obama Administration’s whole approach to the security state, from drone assassinations to the persecution of whistleblowers (Obama is worse even than Bush in some aspects of his civil liberties record).
But the Czar had choices, and so does Obama. Under current procedures, the White House must respond to a petition with 25 000 signatures, and the answer in this case must be “Yes” or “No’. So, this is one of the very few ways that Obama can be pushed to take an explicit stand one way or the another on an issue he prefers to address through leaks and ambiguities.
A pardon for Swartz, however qualified, would undercut the case for severe punishment (including, possibly, the death penalty) of Bradley Manning and others. It would amount to an acceptance that Swartz’ motivation in seeking the free distribution of information was a noble one, and that his offences should have been judged in that light. Perhaps some people would see it as exonerating the state, but I think more would see it as a signal of a new direction, and a precedent to be followed.
A refusal or evasion would serve the same function as the Czar’s orders to his Cossacks in 1905. Those who still believe Obama’s pledge to run the most transparent administration in history would see the reality, and might be moved to protest a bit more.
fn1. Among them, a stoush with a silly Oz politician
fn2. I don’t want to refight the whole “individual in history” debate, but Nicholas could have chosen to meet Father Gapon, could have promised reforms and could have delivered at least some of them. And, in the light of subsequent events, it would have been far better for him, his family, his class, and just about everyone else in Russia had he done so.