Friday, January 25, 2008

New York Times Endorsements

The all important (or not important at all) endorsements from the paper of record in this country were released today. Not surprisingly the Times endorsed New York Senator Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary race. It is also no surprise that they chose to endorse Arizona Senator John McCain for the Republican nomination.

What was interesting was the manner in which each nomination was couched. One could say in the Republican contest the choice was a no-brainer. The snub of Rudy Giuliani should come as no surprise, because journalists in New York have long known what the rest of us are learning; that he is nuttier than a fruit cake! The editorial board’s clear and long standing position on the separation of church and state made an endorsement of Mike Huckabee all but impossible. The only other possibility would have been Mitt Romney and the Times rightly caught the fact that a man as truly conservative as Governor Romney claims to be would never have gotten elected to lead Taxachusetts. His chameleonesque ability to stand for “whatever you want” is totally unappealing and uninspired.

If I had to come up with an overarching theme for the Times’ endorsement of Hillary Clinton I would have to say it was; “Hedging their bet.” Clearly the times like Hillary, but I think they are equally critical of her style as they are of Obama's newness. I found it interesting that they would say: “The sense of possibility, of a generational shift, rouses Mr. Obama’s audiences and not just through rhetorical flourishes. He shows voters that he understands how much they hunger for a break with the Bush years, for leadership and vision and true bipartisanship.” Then they go on to say: “The next president needs to start immediately on challenges that will require concrete solutions, resolve, and the ability to make government work. Mrs. Clinton is more qualified, right now, to be president.”

To my mind these two points knock on the door of the central issue defining their major difference without daring to walk through it. Mr. Obama wants to change the tone of the debate. It is impossible to assess how rancorous the tone has gotten in Washington over the last seven years in a vacuum. The vitriolic way Democrats and Republicans have fought so bitterly over all manner of issues didn’t start in 2000. It has certainly gotten worse since then. I would argue that the political tone became particularly partisan after the election of President Clinton in 1992 and really fell apart after the 1994 midterm elections.

That isn't the sole responsibility of the Clintons. The Republicans are equally, if not more, to blame. But the Clinton administration was good at slinging mud and fighting. The Times hints at this when they say: “As strongly as we back her candidacy, we urge Mrs. Clinton to take the lead in changing the tone of the campaign. It is not good for the country, the Democratic Party or for Mrs. Clinton, who is often tagged as divisive, in part because of bitter feeling about her husband’s administration and the so-called permanent campaign. (Indeed, Bill Clinton’s overheated comments are feeding those resentments, and could do long-term damage to her candidacy if he continues this way.)”

I wonder if we can truly feel comfortable rolling the dice on the next 8 years. If we need to change the tone, do we want to look to the past to guide us? The Times, apparently, thinks we should. But then again, the paper of record marched in lock step with President Bush to war in Iraq.

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