The opposition to Michael Bloomberg’s promise to pay the fines of discharged Florida convicts who still owe assessed fines, in order to enable them to vote in the presidential election, is unjust.
Presidential candidate Bloomberg did not distinguish himself other than in terms that invite mockery, in spending $937 million in a late presidential drive that won him only five delegates from American Samoa at the Democratic convention.
And towards the end of his brief campaign, he effectively said that he agreed with most of this president’s policies but did not like this president.
Apart from Bloomberg’s head-over-heels enthusiasm for unproved climate change and sustainable energy claptrap, his policy positions are relatively close to Trump’s, and as befits a billionaire competing with another billionaire, he was on fiscal matters a refreshing presence among the Democratic candidates in not advocating a straight soak-the-rich anti-capitalist wealth confiscation to be deluged on the traditional voting fiefdoms of the Democratic Party.
He was a competent mayor of New York, particularly in comparison with his moronic successor Bill de Blasio. There were signs of restless authoritarianism however, in his meddling with the diets of New Yorkers, closing Times Square except to pedestrians and cyclists, and in his increasing preoccupation with esoteric ecological matters.
He bought his third term as mayor on a greater orgy of political extravagance than he displayed in his successful pursuit of the five American Samoan Democratic delegates. But in his proposal to enable former Florida prison inmates to vote, he has been nastily traduced and falsely accused of vote-buying and lawbreaking.
Right to Vote
By my reckoning, as a proud former resident of two American federal prisons for offenses it is now well-established I did not commit and would never have dreamt of committing, I think about 20 per cent of inmates in the American system are innocent, 20 percent have been convicted of absurd offenses that should not be offenses, and almost all the rest of nonviolent offenders are grossly over-sentenced.
As I have written before, here and elsewhere, the United States suffers from a much higher rate of successful prosecutions than other advanced democracies and a much higher rate of per capita incarceration.
One consequence of this excessive preoccupation with locking people up even on slender evidence and with draconian severity is the Manichaean concept that once a person has been convicted of a criminal offense they are evil, forfeit all rights, and the best that they can hope for is a notional return after their allocution of self-condemnation, an insipid penitence, and life like quasi-liberated zombies making their way fretfully and uneasily in a society whose forgiveness is the subject of constant supplication.
In fact, whether a convicted person is guilty of anything or not, or if guilty, is guilty of a real offense to society or not, and even if that threshold was transgressed, if he has paid a heavy penalty for that transgression, when the sentence has been discharged, the proverbial debt to society is deemed to have been paid, and the convicted person is fully entitled to return unstigmatized to gainful employment and a normal life.
In such circumstances, discharged inmates have every right to vote, and the ability to vote should not be retarded by their limited ability to pay promptly whatever fines have been assessed against them, (and those too are generally gratuitously excessive and intended to be as restrictive and onerous as possible).
In penal matters, the United States, federally, and in most of its individual states, is a severe and merciless jurisdiction. Discharged prisoners who were nonviolent first offenders have seen the corrupt underbelly of American criminal justice and are uniquely qualified to exercise the privilege of the ballot knowledgeably, and it is precisely this group of voters who may eventually lead to the absolute moral imperative of penal and judicial reform in the United States.
Eventually reform will have to rise to the level of humane and enlightened carceral and correctional policy, competitive with other advanced prosperous democracies. There is no legal or social reason to prevent or hinder this section of the electorate from voting.
Forfeiting Moral Credibility
Michael Bloomberg did absolutely nothing to suborn a vote for any party or candidate in his proposal to enable former prisoners in Florida to vote. Nothing in what he proposes is conditional on how they vote, and the controversy that has arisen in pro-Trump circles and been fanned by the president himself, imputing this intent to Bloomberg, is spurious.
My own guess from my observations is that most of these people would prefer Trump to the Democrats. This allegation against Bloomberg, propagated and incited by the president, is not morally superior to the defamatory nonsense deluged on Trump by his enemies, such as the outrageous charge that he referred to members of the armed forces who gave their lives in the foreign wars of the United States as “losers” and “suckers,” or this last week’s teapot tempest that he is threatening to reduce the country to civil war and to replicate the antics of Adolf Hitler in 1933, if the Democrats try again to steal his election, or the latest claim that he only paid $70 in income tax in 2017.
We are used to scurrilous allegations by the Democrats against Trump. But those who promote the charge that Michael Bloomberg is committing a crime by attempting to facilitate those who’ve been punished and probably over-punished in Florida to regain the elemental right to vote are forfeiting the moral advantage that the Trump campaign enjoys in being the butt rather than the source of wildly overstated accusations of wrongdoing.
Because of the Democrats’ perversion and corruption of the justice and intelligence systems to produce the monstrous canard of the Trump-Russia collusion fraud, the Republicans have gained the upper hand in the correlation of moral credibility, though it is like being on top in a mud fight.
They would compromise their own position unwisely if they persist in their harassment of Michael Bloomberg on this point. He should be commended for both his material generosity, and for the spirit which prompted this gesture.
Instead of railing at him, the president should go the Democrats one better and strike a heavy blow for natural justice by paroling at once all non-violent first offenders who have served at least half their sentences, and incentivizing the states to do the same.
There are around 500,000 people in that category in the country now, and they and the entire population of nearly 40 million official felons in the country and their families would be inexpressibly grateful for a gesture of reconciliation and magnanimity. Nothing would be lost by it; it would not be untimely politically either.
Conrad Black has been one of Canada’s most prominent financiers for 40 years, and was one of the leading newspaper publishers in the world. He’s the author of authoritative biographies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Richard Nixon, and, most recently, “Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other,” which is about to be republished in updated form.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.