After a year of health care battles, financial clashes, immigration dust-ups, tax compromises, treaties, and the repeal of DADT, the President of the United States is embroiled in the biggest controversy of them all; his verbal support of the Philadelphia Eagles for giving Michael Vick a second chance. One might be moved to wonder about the consistency with which we the people are willing to apply the Christian value of forgiveness. Just over two years ago George W. Bush, on behalf of we the people, forgave the criminally bad management (and just plain crime, for that matter) of the entire Wall Street investment banking industry. President Obama, in similar fashion, forgave the equally tawdry practices of the auto industry just less than two years ago.
The actions of both of those groups cost far more damage to human life and liberty than anything a second rate hustler like Mike Vick could pull off. I suspect more than a few dogs and cats have suffered in the recession triggered and then exacerbated by the artists formally known as business geniuses. But then, this news story isn’t really about forgiveness, vengeance, or crime; like everything else coming from the totality of the U.S. media, this story is about the story. President Obama didn’t call a news conference, take out a full page ad in the New York Times, or send out a mass email to his supporters to advertise his “support” of the Eagles. Mr. Obama made his comments in a private conversation with the owner of a private business. Despite the sedate nature of the comments, the opportunity to stir up another juicy presidential controversy has the media ratings monsters drooling all over themselves.
We the people should be asking what this story is really about. What does this say about our views of crime and punishment? Are we, as a society, still able to practice forgiveness and encourage redemption? Does this story, as Fox News asked, say anything about ours or the Eagles’ collective approach to reemploying felons (i.e. if Vick wasn’t a phenomenal talent, would he have received the same opportunity)? Many of these questions are being explored in candid and forceful conversations throughout the web and on networks like Facebook. Why are those conversations not being reflected in the mass media?
Michael Vick committed a really repugnant crime, a crime for which he was punished via both the deprivation of his liberty and the loss of substantial personal wealth. It stands to reason that complaints about Vick’s second chance cannot stand on their merits alone. If there is an argument for further sanction against Mr. Vick, then that argument must be paired with a call for greater sanctions across the spectrum of our penal system. Should Vick be punished more aggressively than his 21 month sentence without calling for similarly scaled increases in the sentencing of drunk drivers whose actions cause death and dismemberment? What of sentencing guidelines for other classes of criminal activity; hackers, con artists, embezzlers, and tax cheats? The perpetrators of so-called “white collar crime” cause substantially greater harm than the activities of Mr. Vick.
While I don’t agree with the notion that Michael Vick must continue to pay a penalty outside of the one imposed by the court, I don’t reject the argument of those who do; just be consistent in your approach. What I see, in the media and amongst the conversations of social media, is a series of emotional attacks on an easy target. Vick makes a compelling villain, and the victims of his crime are both easy to love and pity. But in a nation supposedly defined by its commitment to justice and Christian values, a villain who is punished and seeks redemption should be given his opportunity. Any other outcome compromises our values more than the crime we would seek to punish. Michael Vick isn’t a hero, but his attempt at reform, and the Eagles’ support of said attempt, are at least worthy of the notice the President gave them.
The Rational Middle is listening…