When I got this morning’s e-mail from Don Fowler about our Obama endorsement, I immediately answered it as follows:
I guess you and I are just going to have to agree to disagree yet again, Don.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, though. It’s helpful to me in understanding the way things stand.
If you don’t mind my asking, were you involved at all in discussions within the Clinton campaign about our repeated invitations to an editorial board meeting? And if you were, was this the advice you gave?
That may have seemed a question out of the blue, but it arose from an intuition I had last week when I was trying to imagine why Sen. Clinton didn’t schedule an interview, despite all our invitations. It didn’t make sense to me, and the answer I was getting — pleading the busy schedule — was weirdly inadequate. Barack Obama had a busy schedule. So did Dick Gephardt, Carol Moseley-Brown, Joe Lieberman, John Edwards, Howard Dean and John Kerry in 2004, but they all managed to find the time.
I felt like something else was going on, and Don’s message this morning seemed to support the hunch that he had something to do with it. So as long as I was writing to him, I asked him.
He called me on the phone a little later and left a message, saying in part:
As concerns the matter of the, being involved in conversations about whether Hillary should… come and spend two hours with your folks, I categorically recommended that she not spend her time there, it would be totally wasted time. No chance in the world that you and your crowd would ever endorse a Clinton for anything. I learned that a long time ago. Be glad to talk with you.
Now, I have no idea that Hillary Clinton or her schedulers would make their decision based on this — I certainly wouldn’t. But at least it gives me an explanation from somebody.
I called him back, missed him, and he called me back, and we had one of the most frustrating conversations I’ve had since — well, since this morning, when I chatted with a reader who said he didn’t believe newspapers had a right to endorse candidates at all, so we shouldn’t do it.
But I’d never had such a frustrating conversation with someone as well educated and experienced as Don, his party’s former national chairman. He kept clinging to this notion that we would never endorse anyone with the name Clinton — which made no sense to me — what’s in a name; are we Montagues and Capulets here? I mean, if he knows that, he knows something I don’t know. He said he based his absolute conclusion on a visit he made to the editorial board on Bill Clinton’s behalf in 1996. Not remembering the specifics of that meeting, I didn’t get into it, but I pointed out that of the five current members of the board, I’m the only one who was on the board then. No matter. He suggested that the fix was in, that we would endorse the Republican no matter what, and that it must hold just as true today as then.
Well, you know, this paper has endorsed Republicans — for president — every election for as far back as I am aware, something which I attribute to the fact that the national Democratic Party (which he once chaired) keeps giving us nominees the board won’t go for. But we didn’t even get into that. I pointed out the fact that of all the endorsements we’ve done in all general elections — federal, state, local — since I joined the board in 1994 (and that includes those presidential ones), we have endorsed more Democrats than Republicans. I offered to take him into our smelly, musty archives and show him all those endorsements. He didn’t take me up on it.
He repeated his charge that we endorsed Sanford twice. I told him he was wrong, and asked him if he knew whom we endorsed in 2006 for governor. He said he didn’t know. I told him it was Democrat Tommy Moore.
He kept saying he didn’t have to read what we wrote; he knew all he needed to know about us. So it was no use telling him that while I had liked Barack Obama from early on and hoped we would see fit to endorse him, I believed that Sen. Clinton had a case to make that could persuade us otherwise, and I wanted her to have the chance to make it. As I wrote in the paper, Mike Fitts expressed his sincere disappointment that she didn’t do so. I think, after having had the interview with Obama, he would still have persuaded us. But I can’t know for sure.
But Don Fowler, he knows.
It was a remarkable conversation. I share it with you because it bears — or at least seems to bear — on a subject I’ve tried to keep y’all in the loop on.