4 Crazy Things Presidents Did In Their Last Years In Office That Should Really Inspire Obama
President Obama is finally reaping that ultimate presidential reward. He's enjoying the wind-down year of his second term, secure in the knowledge that he'll soon be leaving the White House and won't have to answer to anyone anymore. Not the public, not Republicans, not activists — just a nice, long post-presidential life doing whatever the hell he wants. There can be both positives and negatives to the so-called "lame duck" status, however. And not every president uses it the same way. Here are four crazy things presidents did in their last years in office.
Obama took the opportunity to make one of those classic "what are you gonna do about it" moves this month during his trip to Alaska. Despite being primarily focused on the threat of climate change, he also made headlines by renaming an Alaskan mountain — the former Mount McKinley is now Denali, a historically indigenous name. It's a largely symbolic gesture, but it's no doubt meaningful for countless locals and Alaskan natives. Obviously, not all late-second-term decisions are as benign and stirring as that one, however. Here are four of the craziest lame-duck presidential actions, which should inspire Obama to take action. They show just how controversial things can get when a president is freed from long-term accountability.
1. The Marc Rich Pardon (2000)
Back in 2000, outgoing president Bill Clinton made headlines for his slew of eleventh-hour pardons, some of which were hugely controversial. In particular, there was his pardoning of billionaire fugitive oil trader Marc Rich, who had been indicted for tax evasion and conducting illegal business with Iran before fleeing to Switzerland to evade arrest.
The Rich pardon is one of the most commonly-cited examples of a president saving an unpopular, hugely controversial move until the very end — it literally came on Clinton's final day in office. It drew particular scrutiny due the substantial donations to the Democratic Party made by Rich's wife, Denise, as well as a lobbying effort by Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Barak. Rich died in 2013.
2. Nixon Appoints Gerald Ford Vice President (1973)
Nobody knew that this was happening in Nixon's final year in office at the time, because no one figured that he wouldn't finish his second term. He ultimately resigned in the face of Watergate in 1974, which at the time was the worst modern presidential scandal to enter the American public consciousness.
This one is a little different, to be sure, because it's not a "Wow, what an in-your-face decision" moment so much as a "everything fell into place" one. What really stands out is that Nixon's hand was forced in two different directions. He had to pick a replacement for his former VP, Spiro Agnew, who resigned due to an indictment. When he consulted with congressional leaders, they reportedly gave him only one choice: Ford, who was House Minority Leader at the time.
But even with his hands somewhat tied, this would ultimately prove to be a fortunate selection for Nixon. After ascending to the presidency, Ford made one of the most controversial decisions in the history of American politics: He pardoned Nixon, thus shielding him from any further investigation.
3. The Caspar Weinberger Pardon (1992)
This is another hugely controversial presidential pardon. In December of 1992, following his defeat at the hands of President-Elect Bill Clinton, then-President George H.W. Bush pardoned Caspar Weinberger, the Secretary of Defense under Ronald Reagan from 1981 through 1987. Weinberger was a core figure in the Iran-Contra arms trading scandal, which battered Reagan's presidency from 1985 onward.
Weinberger was indicted over his role in the affair, and his legal proceedings were effectively the last, best chance to examine the scandal under a magnifying lens. But with his second term just a dream, Bush decided to pardon Weinberger. This stirred a lot of outcry for one very obvious reason: Bush was Reagan's vice president and stood to benefit from a halt to any legal inquiries relating to Iran-Contra. He was deposed on the matter in 1988, before becoming president.
4. The Peter Yarrow Pardon (1983)
This was another one of those last-day-in-office pardons, and whatever the culture regarding child abuse was like back in 1981, it sure looks awful now. Having lost his reelection bid to Ronald Reagan in 1980, outgoing president Jimmy Carter issued a pardon to folk singer Peter Yarrow — the "Puff the Magic Dragon" guy of Peter, Paul and Mary fame.
So what was the pardon for? Yarrow had been convicted in 1970 for "taking improper liberties" with a 14-year-old female fan. He only served three months in prison, however, and was a free man by the time Carter's pardon rolled around more than a decade later. Which frankly makes it all the stranger that one was given.