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Bernie Sanders Wants an Imperial Presidency, Too

Sanders is already telling Americans that he doesn't care about laws. Maybe we should believe him.
February 26, 2020
Bernie Sanders Wants an Imperial Presidency, Too
Laws are for other people. (ustin Sullivan/Getty Images)

1. Rule of Law

If you want debate round-ups, you should read Jim Swift, Ben Parker, and me. I won’t say which piece is the best of the three, because you should read them all. But it’s definitely mine.

But I want to move away from the debate and talk very briefly about Bernie Sanders and the rule of law.

Walter Olson noted yesterday that Bernie proposes an interesting way to treat Very Bad Energy Executives: He wants to prosecute them as criminals.

Now maybe you think that changing the law to criminalize private industry is a good idea. Maybe you think it’s a bad idea. Either way, that’s a moral and prudential question and it doesn’t really bear on the concept of the rule of law itself.

But here’s the trick: Bernie doesn’t talk about prosecuting them based on future changes in the law. He wants to prosecute them retroactively for legal actions.

Here’s Bernie’s line: “Fossil fuel executives should be criminally prosecuted for the destruction they have knowingly caused.”


In case you thought that was a one-off, last night Bernie talked a good deal about his desire to legalize marijuana. This is a subject I have not paid much attention to. Boy, was I missing out.

Because here is what Bernie proposes to do, per his website:

  • Legalize marijuana in the first 100 days with executive action
  • Vacate and expunge all past marijuana-related convictions

Drill down to look at the details and it’s even worse:

Legalize marijuana in the first 100 days with executive action by:

  • Nominating an attorney general, HHS secretary, and administrator for the DEA who will all work to aggressively end the drug war and legalize marijuana
  • Immediately issuing an executive order that directs the Attorney General to declassify marijuana as a controlled substance
    • While Congress must aggressively move to end the war on drugs and undo its damage, as president Bernie will not wait for Congress to act. . . .

Vacate and expunge all past marijuana-related convictions.

  • In a Sanders administration we will review all marijuana convictions – both federal and state – for expungement and re-sentencing. All past convictions will be expunged. . . .
  • Revitalize the executive clemency process by creating an independent clemency board removed from the Department of Justice and placed in the White House.

Holy forking shirtballs.

To recap: Sanders proposes making a nationwide change to criminal law without the participation of the legislature and wants to pull the clemency process out of the DoJ and place it inside the White House.

He wants to prosecute one class of people for legal actions taken in the past. And he wants to expunge the records of people who were convicted in the past of criminal actions.

Good to know!

I don’t want to litigate the wisdom of legalizing marijuana here. Legalization isn’t the point.

If you want to legalize marijuana, there’s a way to do it that respects the rule of law. What Sanders is proposing is basically the opposite of it. He proposes a continuation of the imperial presidency and a continuing degradation of the the basic foundations of the rule of law.

The authoritarianism genie is out of the bottle in American politics. And it’s hard to see how it gets put back.

2. Cause-Effect

Remember yesterday when I complained about how stupid newspaper editorial board endorsements where?

Eighteen hours later, the Arizona Republic ran this editorial:

“The Arizona Republic will no longer endorse candidates for public office.”

Good for them.

3. The Death of Newspapers

Speaking of the papers, Medium has a long essay about the death of McClatchy that will anger and sadden anyone who cares about the industry:

In 1999, the daily newspaper industry hit peak profitability. Advertising revenues were $46.2 billion and circulation revenues were $10.4 billion. At that point 1,600 dailies owned mainly by 25 holding companies constituted the largest advertising medium in the country. By far. The consumer internet was in its infancy — the Netscape IPO had occurred just four years before. Newspaper revenues were bigger even than broadcast and cable television, combined. And the newspaper industry was absurdly profitable. Average pre-tax profit margins peaked at 28.5% that year. The delicious irony was that newspaper profitability was built on hiking advertising rates year after year on local retailers with razor-thin margins of less than 1%.

Gleefully exploiting distribution monopolies defined by how far their trucks could get by sunrise, newspapers saw no end to a world where advertising rates could be hiked on a whim. The high fixed cost of printing newspapers, building a home delivery channel and maintaining a large sales force provided a steep barrier to entry for any potential competitor. Newspapers were the only game in town. They had a license to steal. And steal, they did.

One evening I got a call from one of our classified advertising managers. He wanted to know what I thought about the idea of hiking his paper’s help-wanted rates by 33%. His rationale? It was a recession. Nobody was hiring. But when it was over, and hiring resumed, his clients would have forgotten what they used to pay and would happily pay the new rate. It worked. They did.

That’s how good it was. How easy it was.

Read the whole thing.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.