A recent Washington Post editorial questioned Obama for failing to pardon more people. As the article states:
Mr. Obama has thus far extended mercy to a mere 17 individuals, most of whom committed relatively minor offenses decades ago. … At this pace, Mr. Obama is likely to fall below the 189 pardons issued by George W. Bush — the modern president with the worst track record in this area.
Mr. Obama need only look to the thousands of Americans — many of them young, African American men — incarcerated for inexcusably lengthy periods because of draconian crack cocaine laws. Mr. Obama joined with a bipartisan coalition in Congress to reduce the penalties and make them more proportional to the crime. Some inmates may benefit from a U.S. Sentencing Commission decision this summer that allows judges to resentence inmates under new guidelines reflecting the penalty reductions. But many nonviolent offenders worthy of relief will be out of luck because they were sentenced to mandatory minimum prison terms. This is exactly the kind of situation that cries out for presidential intervention.
Aside from the interesting framing of a president failing to pardon people that the criminal justice system has dealt with as a problem – note that Bush has the “worst” track record in this area for his paltry number of pardons – is it really hard to imagine the backlash that the first black president would face if he decided to pardon thousands of young, African American men incarcerated under laws that began in the Reagan era?