How can anyone take seriously, much less trust, a newspaper with an editorial board that would publish something like this?
The headline was clickbait, at least for me: “Biden shows once again why he is a huge upgrade from Trump.” I had to read it. “Once again”? “Huge upgrade”? I wondered what on earth the Post could be referring to. The answer took me by surprise.
The editorial was lauding Biden’s pardoning or commuting convicted criminals who committed nonviolent federal crimes. Well, I’m not going to quibble: the traditional POTUS use of the Presidential pardon power is a low, low, lower than low bar to clear. I haven’t seen the full information on those who were pardoned or had their sentences commuted, but they were overwhelmingly drug offenders, and overwhelmingly “of color,” because that’s how this Administration rolls. There is, I surmise, virtually no chance that Joe was personally involved in the choice of who to pardon, and scant chance that he had to do anything more than sign off on the selections made by Elizabeth G. Oyer, the Justice Department’s pardon chief.
Still, the Presidential pardon power is shamefully underused, and has been grossly misused in the past, notably when Bill Clinton, in the waning days of his Presidency, pardoned fugitive Marc Rich, who had been indicted on federal charges of tax evasion, wire fraud, racketeering, and making oil deals with Iran during the Iran hostage crisis. Why did Clinton do this? His ex-wife pledged millions to Clinton’s Presidential library, and suddenly Rich was pardoned.
It was a bribe, straight up. How does the Post describe what Clinton did? A “pardon of a Democratic donor looked like a quid pro quo.” Is that a fair or accurate description? No, but the deceit allows the Post editors to say “President Donald Trump was far worse.” Really? Far worse than taking millions of dollars to pardon scum like Marc Rich? That deliberate misrepresentation is also an excellent reason not to trust the Post.
Trump is condemned by the Post because he pardoned some of his loyalists like Mike Flynn, Joe Arpaio and Steve Bannon, all of whom the Post ranks as worse than Rich by virtue of being connected to Trump. I hold most of those pardons justifiable. The Democrats criminalized politics when Trump was elected: those associated with the President had targets on their backs for partisan prosecutors to aim at. Though the Post’s editors don’t mention it, Trump also pardoned a lot of non-violent offenders who were worthy of mercy.
Here is something else that they don’t mention: if all we are talking about is pardons and commutations, Biden is a “huge upgrade” over Barack Obama, and so was Trump. By Thanksgiving of 2010, a full two years into his first term, Obama had pardoned two turkeys (one the previous year) and no human beings.
But of course the Washington Post doesn’t have the integrity to mention that.
The larger point is this: It is ridiculous to cite the use of the pardon power as evidence of any President’s virtues as a leader. There are literally millions of Americans who would be spectacular at issuing pardons. That doesn’t mean that they would be effective Presidents. How often are numbers of pardons and commutations cited by historians in assessing Presidencies? I can answer that: almost never. It is a relatively minor part of the job, and being a responsible and competent wielder of that power (giving Joe a very large benefit of the doubt) doesn’t make Biden a “huge upgrade” over any of his predecessors.