Inquiring Minds

December 19, 2008

A Slate magazine column, The Explainer, is a must read for me. It typically explains issues in the news or suggested by the news, such as these recent entries: What do Iraqis find so insulting about shoes and feet? Can you be a gay Mormon?

Reading through the archive of questions answered this year is a refresher course on what’s transpired, from the important (Can Blagojevich still appoint a new senator?) to the absurd (Who first put lipstick on a pig?).

But the year-end list of best unanswered reader questions that Slate “felt ill-equipped or unwilling to answer” is more entertaining. Culled from 8,500 inquires, the list is also a glimpse into the odd curiosities people harbor: How did early man deal with growing toe and fingernails? Why does some music make you want to shake your butt? Why don’t humans have a mating season? And others more bizarre. I haven’t decided which to vote as the best.

I am left to wonder why a serious question posed nearly ten years ago — Can President Clinton pardon himself? — apparently hasn’t been asked about the present White House occupant. (The answer for all presidents is an equivocal maybe, as long as the crime isn’t the cause of impeachment.)

That brings to mind a related question regarding George W. Bush: can he pardon members of his administration, especially Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, in advance? In other words, can Bush give them a get-of-jail-free card in the event they’re charged and convicted of crimes stemming from abuse, torture, and murder of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere?

As I pondered that question, I decided to check The Explainer’s work for the entire year. Silly me, the question was answered six months ago. Bush has the authority to grant pre-emptive pardons even if criminal charges are filed after he leaves office.

What were the Founding Fathers thinking? After all, they created the legal basis for the United States following the defeat of Britain’s King George III? I think I’ll ask Ask the Explainer why another George has such kingly authority.