To endorse or not to endorse

Here’s a good "talk amongst yourselves" topic.

As regular readers know, I’ve written a lot over the last few years on the topic of the newspaper’s endorsements — from the high-altitude stuff like why we do them and how we do them, to the nitty-gritty of how we came to decide on a particular endorsement, and the party affiliations and won-lost record of candidates we’ve backed, and plenty of other stuff that’s probably way more than you ever wanted to know.

But there is a significant anti-endorsement faction in the news trade that simply doesn’t want us to do them at all. That’s a tempting proposition when I’ve just been through something like these presidential primaries, and when starting next week I’ll be resuming the gantlet with city elections, then county and state primaries, and then the general elections themselves, with scarcely a moment to breathe. Nevertheless, I find the arguments of the "don’t do ’em" crowd unmoving. I’ve run across two such arguments in the past week.

The first was in TIME magazine, which basically doesn’t have a dog in the fight, not even being a newspaper. A longtime thoughtful reader brought the piece to Cindi’s attention, and she brought it to mine. It’s called "Should Newspapers Still Be Taking Sides?" An excerpt:

    I confess that I’ve never quite understood why newspapers endorse
presidential candidates. Sure, I know the history and the tradition,
the fact that newspapers in the 18th and 19th centuries were often
affiliated with political parties, but why do they do it now? Why do it
at a time when the credibility and viability of the press are at
all-time lows? More important, why do it at a time when readers,
especially young readers, question the objectivity of newspapers in
particular and the media in general?

This guy’s argument reminds me of one that Tony Ridder, the top dog of the now-defunct Knight Ridder, made to a roomful of KR editorial page editors in the waning days of the empire (early 2005). Never mind why there was such a gathering of EPEs when corporate had zero say in the running or content of our editorial pages, but they use to hold such meetings about once every five years whether I wanted them to or not. Anyway, Tony’s argument didn’t go as far as this guy’s, he just didn’t want us endorsing in presidential elections any more. His spiel sort of amounted to, "Golly, folks, why do this when it just makes a lot of folks mad at us?" In fairness, he saw it as a distraction to our main missions, which is writing about our respective local communities. We mostly just stared at him blankly. If anyone in the room took his advice to heart, I don’t know about it — and in any case, by the time of the next presidential election (this one), there was no more Knight Ridder.

Then, there was this piece in The New York Observer about the NYT‘s policy against its op-ed columnists endorsing candidates. An excerpt:

    Unlike the board that puts together The Times’ endorsements, they can say whatever they want. They can even court an R rating. They cannot, however, endorse a candidate.

    “I came here in 1995 and Howell Raines told me
about it,” said Gail Collins, the former editorial director, who is now
herself a columnist. “His thought, as I understood it, was that it
would confuse people. Columnists could hint, and could make it clear,
but we couldn’t explicitly say it.” The logic goes like this: If Gail
Collins endorses Barack Obama, then a reader might confuse it for the New York Times newspaper endorsing Barack Obama.

This makes no sense to me, but then I’ve never been in the position of having staff op-ed columnists who were not members of the editorial board, so it’s hard for me to imagine. Personally, I wish they’d go ahead an overtly state the preferences that some of them so obviously have, instead of hiding behind this absurdly small, thin fig leaf of impartiality. I mean, come on — do you really doubt whom Paul Krugman preferred in the last two presidential elections?

As David Brook was quoted as saying in the piece, such obfuscation is a great challenge to a writer: "It’s like a two-year process of deliberation without reading the verdict."

Of course, we write personal columns on the editorial page of The State (not op-ed), and those columns are intentionally separate from editorials, which express consensus opinions. And no, we never write "I endorse so-and-so" in columns, but for slightly different reasons. One, there’s the word itself — endorsement is reserved for the newspaper itself, not for individual writers. Also, however many good things we might say about one candidate or bad things about another, there’s always a little bit of hanging back from a final, total commitment because we know we can get embarrassed by having the real endorsement go against us when we get around to it as a board.

Of course, readers of my work will note that as time goes by, I worry less and less about that. I’m more interested in being completely candid with readers as to what I think here and now, and less concerned with the potential embarrassment of losing the endorsement debate. My mania for disclosure even extends to publicly wallowing in my humiliation and mortification at losing the argument so spectacularly in 2000. But not everyone is that weird; others prefer to keep their dignity, and I respect that.

Anyway, I thought I’d share these pieces with you. You decide what you think. And I know you will. That’s one of the reasons why I’m so dismissive of one of the lamest arguments mounted against endorsements — which the TIME guy dusts off and trots out yet again: That we shouldn’t tell people how to vote.

As if we could.

32 thoughts on “To endorse or not to endorse

  1. Karen McLeod

    I like to read the endorsement (even if I gagged on the 2000 and 2004 ones). At least they offer a reasoned assessment. I kinda wish that some of you would offer your own preferences and state your own preferences. I’d especially enjoy seeing Cindy Scoppe’s take on local, as well as national elections, and Warren Bolton comes from a whole different viewpoint from you–I’d like to hear his thoughts on the presidential candidates. At any rate, it beats listening to bestial screams of outrage from either side.

  2. Brad Warthen

    Precisely, Karen! The goal is that reasoned assessment! As I’ve said I don’t know how many times in the links above, endorsements are more about the WHY than the WHO. And whomever you vote for in the end, we hope that you will have thought about it a little harder for having set our arguments alongside others you hear or come up with yourself. You may reject our arguments completely, but your own vote will be better-formed by the exercise.

  3. Doug Ross

    I agree with Karen. I’d much rather see the individual endorsements of the columnists than a consensus choice.
    I also will go back to something I wrote before – I don’t think a newspaper should endorse a candidate from each party during the primaries. The differences between Obama and McCain are so clear that it seems bizarre to say, “We endorse this guy who is 100% against the war and we endorse this guy who is 100% for it”. If the differences in their positions on the issues were minimal, maybe. But they’re not. Pick one from one party and stick with it.

  4. weldon VII

    Ah, a rare moment of agreement. Let the columnists tell us what they think.
    But I’d just as soon the newspaper as a whole skip the endorsement process in the presidential election, unless everybody at the newspaper gets a vote in the process and there’s a landslide one way or the other.
    I’d also prefer that if you have to endorse at all, you endorse in either the primaries or November but not both, because there’s a conflict of interest otherwise.
    In local elections, I can’t believe you do endorsements. Seems to me that would just foster ill will among some of your paper’s supporters.

  5. dave faust

    Opinions are like…well, you know. And they all smell.
    The problem I have with newspapers that do endorsements is that the newspaper invariably takes itself way too seriously. I really wonder about just how large the egos of newspaper editors and staff must be if they truly think the public genuinely cares about their opinion in these matters. The other part of this dynamic that I wonder about is the people in the newspapers’ audience that actually depend upon a newspaper staff of all things to help them make their decisions about who is best suited for the presidency. Or local dog-catcher for that matter.
    I mean for crying out loud! Why not just man-up and do paper rock scissors or eenie meenie? At least then you could call it your own. Better yet, why not put The State down for a couple of minutes and do some actual personal research about the candidates rather than getting your information pre-digested and twisted for you by people sitting in an office on Shop Road?
    This goes back to the context thing Brad spoke about in another string. He was thrashing around looking for context when listening to MSM comments about the candidates. My thinking is that I know what I believe and I can compare the records of candidates to my belief system to see if they agree. In short, I bring my own context. I certainly don’t consider Scoppe or Boltons’ opinions about McCain or Obama to be necessary ingredients in my decision making process.
    I’m just sayin. David

  6. weldon VII

    Dave, “too seriously” is right.
    You’d think the editorial board was picking, not just recommending, a two-term dictator with the public having no possibility of parole.
    So here’s my endorsement:
    I support McCain. He has more experience than anyone else in the race, and he knows a lot more about war than anyone else in the race, and he’s not dumb enough to fly around the world just chatting with any tinhorn dictator who wants to have a sitdown.
    In the Columbia races, I endorse anyone but Spurrier, even though I don’t live in Columbia, because I think the ol’ ball coach gets too much ink in The State and too much airtime on WIS when he ain’t done nothin’ yet but issue a pardon or two, and I even had to give one of my Clemson-Carolina tickets away at Williams-Brice this year to get rid of it.
    There. I’ve had my say. Goodnight.

  7. notverybright

    I’ve been critical of the State’s endorsements precisely because they often don’t provide (your words) “reasoned assessment.”
    There are lots of examples: The weak basis for the Edwards-as-phony piece; the explanation for why you wouldn’t run those cartoons the Muslim world was upset about. (It boiled down to: Bad Art.) And when the editorial board suggested we vote “yes” on the gay marriage amendment just so people would stop talking about the issue. Seriously. That’s the entire basis you gave for that one.
    In the end, I think that newspaper endorsements, like blogger endorsements, are ineffective but harmless. They give us more insight into the writer than the subject.

  8. bud

    Good comments notverybright. Go back and read the endorsement for POTUS in 2004. That is perhaps the worst endorsement in the history of endorsements. The editorial board crafted this elequoent piece on why John Kerry would make a great president and on the many failings of George W. Bush. But in the end all of that was ignored and the State endorsed George W. Bush. How can anyone take such an endorsement seriously. It spoke volumes about the emptiness of the State’s editorial board.

  9. Brad Warthen

    Actually, those aren’t such good points, NVB. Your first two instances have no bearing on the quality of endorsements. I accept service on your third point — I was not pleased with that endorsement. Of course, I would not have been pleased with any other endorsement point we could think of making. I have come to regret insisting to my colleagues that we say SOMETHING, since the stupid thing was on the ballot. The unusual way we treated it at the time — with a pair of point-counterpoint columns by board members with opposing views — was our way of illustrating our discomfort with the issue. All that said, I feel no regret that we said we wanted to hear no more about it. That certainly reflected my sincere belief that we had far more important things to argue about in South Carolina.

    And bud says something about the 2004 endorsement that is simply not true, and I strongly urge you to do as he says and go read it. The editorial, which I wrote, did indeed recite a litany of serious problems with George Bush; that took up most of the piece because I wanted to say that most emphatically. But it did not in any way say or suggest that "John Kerry would make a great president." I’ve never thought that for an instance.

    The problem here is that bud sees these things in black and white. He assumes — even when evidence stands before him to the contrary — that if you don’t like THIS guy, you must like the OTHER guy.

    We were VERY clear as to why we, with great reluctance, endorsed Bush. bud simply dismisses the reason because he sees no legitimacy in the opinions of people who believe we cannot simply abandon Iraq.

    So please DO read the 2004 piece, which you can find here . And as you read, think of our mortification at having to choose between two such alternatives as Bush and Kerry. Perhaps it will help you understand why I’m so happy that it looks like this time, we’ll have the opportunity to choose between McCain and Obama. The 2004 election was a classic example of the kind of "any way you look at it you lose" elections that the major parties’ nomination processes have given us in the past. This election looks like it will be a very welcome departure from that pattern.

  10. Gordon Hirsch

    Brad … I don’t think it really matters to most people, nor do endorsements sway many voters from their personal positions. Tony Ridder’s objection is typical of business-minded newspaper ownership — why tick people off by taking sides? Unfortunately, the same thinking carries over to aggressive journalism. The blander a paper is, the broader its appeal to advertisers.
    Otherwise, consider these findings (from American Journalism Review) …
    “Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote about newspaper endorsements in her 2000 book, “Everything You Think You Know About Politics and Why You’re Wrong.”
    “The direct effect of editorials does not appear to be significant …” Jamieson said in an interview. “The effect of newspaper endorsements is largely created through advertising about them that is sponsored by the candidate.”
    “Many Americans in 1996 had no idea which presidential candidate their newspaper supported; many more had the wrong idea,” Jamieson writes of an Annenberg study of that year’s election. “To judge from the responses, many people were guessing.” The findings included:
    • Among readers of papers that had endorsed President Clinton, “three-quarters reported that fact; 11 percent reported their paper had endorsed Bob Dole; and 14 percent reported their paper had endorsed no one.”
    • Among readers of papers that had endorsed Dole, “less than one-half” knew that, while one-third thought their paper had endorsed Clinton.
    • Of those who knew their newspaper’s endorsement, 1 percent said it played a “great deal” and 10 percent said it played “somewhat” of a role in their voting decision. “Of that 11 percent, about a quarter had the endorsement wrong.”

  11. bud

    Sen. Kerry is a smart man, and has thoughtful views on everything from energy to diplomacy. As he often says, he has plans – and many of them are good ones.
    -from the BUSH Endorsement in 2004
    bud simply dismisses the reason because he sees no legitimacy in the opinions of people who believe we cannot simply abandon Iraq.

    This is a word game that Brad likes to play. When he says “we cannot simply abandon Iraq” that’s Bradspeak for “We must remain in Iraq trying to impose our will on the Iraqi people”. There is certainly nothing that has transpired over the last 5 years to suggest that the people of Iraq are better off than they were before we occupied their country. So the use of the term “abandon” simply makes no sense. A good analogy would be to say we shouldn’t “abandon” the prisoners of Abu Ghraib. That would make about as much sense.
    The Iraqi’s can solve their own problems. They’ve proven that in Basra. With the British gone they’ve managed much better than most other parts of the country. The British finally figured out that they were part of the problem, not the solution.
    This digression is important. Of course I can’t really take an editorial board seriously when they just can’t see how arrogant our continued occupation of Iraq is. John Kerry would have made a fine president and I believe the situation in Iraq would be largely resolved today had he become POTUS. The editorial board even called him “a smart man with thoughtful view”. Yet they endorsed a stupid man with immature views. The big mystery is why?

  12. notverybright

    True, my answer was broader than your endorsement question.
    But whether the editorial board advocates for or against a candidate, a position, an argument, or whatever the subject may be, the editorials/endorsements, I think we could all agree, should be “reasoned assessments.” It just seems like lots of times there’s something else unstated going on. Balance, maybe? Trying to equalize parties receiving the endorsements? I don’t know the behind-the-scenes machinations, but it’s a calculation that often seems to be based on an analysis of something other than the simple question “What’s best?”
    Your concession on the amendment issue seems to confirm this. There was lots to be said about that amendment, but to take the position the board did just so people would stop talking about the issue was pretty stunning.
    If you’re looking for only examples of endorsements that weren’t “reasoned assessments,” I seem to recall your last endorsement of Joe Wilson was nothing but criticism (and rightly so in my opinion), but you still said to vote for him. He’s “a Tom DeLay-type party foot soldier” but vote for him anyway. How was that constructive and helpful to the voters?

  13. Brad Warthen

    Thanks for the data, Gordon, but you seem to be arguing with a position that I do not hold. You say you don’t think “endorsements sway many voters from their personal positions.” Neither do I, at least not in the way I think you mean that. The most an endorsement can aspire to is to be one of many, many factors that go into the formation of the personal opinion.
    For one thing, an endorsement assumes an open mind on the part of the reader. If your mind’s made up, and is NOT subject to change, there’s not much point in reading it. (With regard to general election endorsements, this highlights one of the problems I have with the political parties. A person who is going to vote for a Democrat, or for a Republican, regardless of what anyone says is simply immune to reason. Such people undermine the entire premise of deliberative government; we simply don’t speak the same language.)
    Everything I read, from essays to endorsements to statements in news stories to bumper stickers to yard signs to blogs to letters to books to what have you, goes into the formation of my “personal position.” Since that’s the way my own mind works, I don’t expect a newspaper’s endorsement to be a huge deal to most readers. It’s a huge deal to me because it’s my responsibility and I take it very seriously. I don’t know of any other way to approach it.
    And while I don’t delude myself into thinking most readers sit up nights thinking about the paper’s endorsements, I do know that when readers — and certainly candidates — interact with me they seem to care an awful lot about our endorsements. I fully understand that it’s because they’re talking to me, and they may forget it the next instance. They probably bring the same intensity to how they want their steak cooked in a restaurant. It’s just that I’m not responsible for the steak. I just do my best at what I am responsible for — and that includes discussion with readers about the how and why of the whole thing.

  14. Brad Warthen

    NVB commented while I was answering Gordon.
    I’m sorry that you don’t agree with me that “issues” which serve no purpose but to intensify the Kulturkampf are a huge distraction from the things we SHOULD be debating in South Carolina, but that is my firm position. I regret every moment that I or anyone else spent on that amendment.
    And if you go back and look, I think you’ll see that our endorsement of Rep. Wilson had something in common with that of Mr. Bush in 2004. As we recapped it on Election Day, “Rep. Joe Wilson is much more experienced in government than his opponent, and his views, especially on the war in Iraq, also are closer to the majority of the district.” (For some reason, the actual endorsement isn’t turning up in the database at the moment.)
    Not a resounding “yea,” but it is clear on the point that Mickey Ellisor’s position on the war was unacceptable to us, and — as we pointed out, and the voters confirmed — the electorate in the 2nd District.
    I suspect that your inability to remember our reasoning may result from a disagreement between you and us over Iraq. I find it often to be true that when a reader can’t remember the reason we gave, it’s because he strongly disagreed with the reason and dismissed it so thoroughly that he even banished it from memory.
    Am I right in my supposition?

  15. bill

    “We have a lot more work to do in our common struggle against bigotry and discrimination.I say “common struggle” because I believe very strongly that all forms of bigotry and discrimination are equally wrong and should be opposed by right-thinking Americans everywhere.Freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation is surely a fundamental human right in any great democracy,as much as freedom from racial,religious,gender,or ethnic discrimination.”
    Coretta Scott King

  16. notverybright

    No, I remember it pretty well. In fact, I wrote a blog entry on the subject, which went like this:

    For a board not known for the astuteness of its reasoning, the State Newspaper set a new mark today indicating that they don’t think the issue should be included in the Constitution, but recommending voting yes on the Constitutional marriage amendment just so people will quit talking about the issue. Seriously. I’m not kidding. I wish I were.
    Following the earlier endorsement of Joe Wilson in which they leveled nothing but criticism at Congressman Wilson in endorsing him (calling him “a Tom DeLay-type party foot soldier”), you have to wonder if over at the State they’re doing some sort of reverse psychology on voters.

    So that’s what I wrote at the time of your endorsements. I’d be interested if you can find anything positive in your writing about Wilson once you locate it (other than, again, the conclusion that didn’t seem to follow from the preceding analysis).
    You mention Ellisor’s position not lining up with the electorate. I didn’t think the exercise was matching the perceived positions of the electorate to the candidate. Is that part of the analysis? Instead of: “What is the right position?” (I understand your position that both questions in your opinion pointed to the same conclusion here, but it’s the analysis I’m interested in more than the conclusion.
    I would be interested in knowing precisely what question the board believes it is answering when making endorsements. Maybe I have that basic question wrong. Maybe it’s something other than “What is right?” Or “What is best?”
    On the marriage amendment issue, you and I agree that the amendment accomplished nothing at all legally, and was intended to do nothing constructive. It was a political ploy designed to marginalize a group of folks and score political points.
    Where we disagree is with the “therefore” part of the analysis. Your “therefore” was to tell voters to pass the amendment rather than reject it. It’s that conclusion that is baffling. If an issue’s being being labeled a distraction is legitimate as the sole basis for amending the constitution, well, I have a few more suggestions as the floodgates open to all kinds of possibilities.

  17. bud

    NVB, you’ve observed the exact same phenomenon that I have. Namely, the State’s bizarre approach to endorsements. Make astute, reasoned arguments for a particular endorsement then turning around and making the exact OPPOSITE endorsement. I’m glad I’m not alone in making that observation.

  18. bud

    WOW! That’s what oil is currently trading for on the NY Mercantile exchange. Again, WOW! Can $4/gasoline be far behind? That is within the range for the all-time inflation adjusted record. Given the fact that gasoline stocks are fairly well supplied for this time of year you have to wonder what is going on?
    Whatever the underlying causes it is fascinating that none of the presidential candidates have even mentioned this. In this case I’m afraid none of them wants to touch this since they really have no answer.

  19. Gordon Hirsch

    Brad … If you’re saying, then, that newspaper endorsements are just one small contribution to the personal decision-making process, for those people who still pay attention to newspapers, we’re agreed.
    Given the amount of time you spend at it, though, it might be worth considering if other pursuits would have greater consequence.

  20. Doug Ross

    George Bush had this to say about Turkey invading Iraq to fight the Kurds:
    “The Turks need to move, move quickly, achieve their objective and get out,” he said.
    Kind of ironic, isn’t it?
    {I know this is off topic but it seemed like the best place to put it}

  21. Brad Warthen

    Doug reminds me of the bicycle salesman in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” He brushes aside the sheriff trying unsuccessfully to assemble a posse, saying something like, well, as long as you’ve pulled a crowd together…

  22. Brad Warthen

    … and Gordon — are you saying that it would be more worth my time if endorsements were a deep, diabolical plot to control voters’ minds and make them salivate when a particular candidate’s name is mentioned?
    I just do my own modest little job here in the vineyard, and discuss what I do to the extent that others want to discuss it.
    And in that same vein, bud and NVB — it’s OK if you disagree or disapprove. That’s anticipated, and the algorithm compensates for it. All is under control. (Does that sound better, Gordon?)

  23. Gordon Hirsch

    Not sure, Brad. Guess I was just saying so much to do, so little time … Are endorsements worth the effort, given the results? If the same time and energy went into other editorial endeavor, might it be of greater influence? What editorials do you think are most productive?

  24. bud

    Brad I actually agreed with most of what you wrote in the 2004 POTUS endorsement. What is bizarre is how you came up with all the right reasons to vote for Kerry then turned around and endorsed Bush who you had just savagely criticized. It was simply an awful piece of journalism.

  25. notverybright

    1. I’d be interested if you can find anything positive in your writing about Wilson once you locate it . . . .
    2. I would be interested in knowing precisely what question the board believes it is answering when making endorsements. Maybe I have that basic question wrong. Maybe it’s something other than “What is right?” Or “What is best?”
    More interested in the second question than the first.

  26. Brad Warthen

    Good, because at this point I might have to find a hard copy and scan it or something. Sometimes individual items fail to be picked up and placed in the archives (something that’s supposed to happen automatically, but there can be coding problems), and I’m thinking that happened here.

    On the second, I guess you could say that "What is best (for the city, the county, the state, the nation, depending on the office)" is the overriding question, although that doesn’t tell you much.

    We tend to have a set of SPECIFIC questions that we ask the candidates, depending on the office. We ask city council candidates about regional cooperation (on things like mass transit), for instance — and this year we’ll no doubt ask about Columbia’s breakdowns over finance and administration of the police department. There are four or five others we always ask. With the presidency, we always ask first about our nation’s role in the world (as noted back on this post, where you can also see video of Obama’s answer).

    But I think what you’re getting at is whether our perception (which will always be imperfect) of the will of the electorate can outweigh our own preferences with regard to a candidate ("You mention Ellisor’s position not lining up with the electorate"). Is that right? Whether it is or not, I’ll answer it. The answer is, "Usually not." In fact, one of our main questions we ask representatives is whether they think their job is to act as a mere channel for a theoretical poll of the district, or whether they think it’s to study issues, find out more about them than they knew before they were elected, and vote accordingly. No, we don’t word it that way, we make it more neutral than that — I’m just giving you a heads-up as to our preference.

    However, a representative has to reflect his district to some extent, else he can’t effectively REPRESENT it. There’s a difference between going to the State House or Capitol Hill and voting exactly as your district would in a referendum (which as you must know I believe to be a horrible way to govern), and being someone whose values reflect the district, but who acknowledges the responsibility to study and learn more about an issue before voting — in which case, if you know the vote won’t be popular back home, you’re prepared to offer the voters a good explanation of why you did what you did.

    Now how much weight do we give the consideration as to whether a candidate seems in tune with his district? We just set it alongside the answers to all the questions we ask about issues, which in turn are judged against our own positions on those issues. How much weight a given factor gets depends upon the individual case. Let me try to explain. There is certainly no mathematical formula, but if you want to imagine how it might work — a candidate who is perfect or nearly so on every issue of importance to us, but who we estimate is only so-so in terms of being in sync with the district, might beat a candidate who seems to personify the district, but disagrees with us on everything imaginable.

    But a candidate we see as subpar on some (but not all) of our issues but is VERY attuned to the wishes of the district (even in ways that put him at odds with us) might outweigh someone we like a little more on some (but not all) of the issues, but seems a bad fit for the district. Does that sound complicated? It is, more so because it involves relative weights of subjective values. Oh, and are you wondering how we know what the district likes? They show us, election after election.

    Joe Wilson tends to fit into the description put forth in that last paragraph. So does Jim Clyburn. Both are way more partisan, and way more ideological (one to the right, one to the left) than we like. Rep. Wilson thinks his job is to carry on the Reagan Revolution, and we don’t. Rep. Clyburn thinks his job is to channel the maximum amount of funding back to his district, and we don’t. But their constituents, by comfortable majorities, prefer them on both counts. And in recent elections, NEITHER has drawn opposition that we like so much that it outweighs that. (And, you’ll recall in the specific instance with which we started, we had a big difference with Mickey Ellisor over the war.) The closest we’ve come to backing the challenger in either district was when Jane Frederick from Beaufort ran against Floyd Spence. If she hadn’t kept stressing education — which we firmly believe is a state and not federal issue — at the expense of all else, we probably would have endorsed her.

    The 5th district — the only other congressional district we usually endorse in, based on where most of our readers are — is different. The 2nd and 6th were gerrymandered to produce such incumbents as Wilson and Clyburn, to the extent that it discourages strong opponents from running. The 5th district is more balanced — to put it merely in partisan terms (not the best way to think of it, but an easy one to point to) it’s represented by a Democrat, even though Republicans keep looking at the demographics and thinking it should be "theirs." In such a district, what sort of candidate "reflects" the district is highly debatable. Our repeated endorsements of John Spratt reflect our clear preference for his performance by our standards, and the RELATIVE weakness (although their weakness is not as obvious as that of most challengers in the 2nd and 6th) of the challengers the GOP keeps throwing money at to run against him.

    All of the above is giving more time to the "nature of the district" factor than normally enters into our discussion, given our beliefs about what a representative should be. But since it is A factor in those districts (and a handful of legislative districts), an almost unavoidable fact given gerrymandering (which is devastatingly effective at discouraging viable competition, which is one of the vile things about it), I thought I would try to put it into words for you.

    Just my luck if you weren’t interested in that at all.

  27. Brad Warthen

    It’s interesting. Democrats and self-described liberals (and I’m not saying that describes NWB; it’s just a general observation) have the hardest time understanding how we could EVER endorse Joe Wilson, and Floyd Spence before him. That endorsement, election after election, just staggers them — a fact which in itself underlines the heightened partisanship that gerrymandering produces.
    Those same people never question our endorsements of Jim Clyburn — whereas to me, the two situations are alike in important ways. They are both far too partisan for our taste, but their districts are so structured as to make them so popular that they never have opponents we see as strong enough to endorse over them.

  28. notverybright

    Thanks for taking the time to lay that out. A couple of thoughts in response, and then I’ll let the issue go.
    People assume that the “what is best” question is the totality of an analysis leading to a newspaper’s endorsement. I always have. If there are other things going on, we should understand them in order to judge your conclusions. Otherwise they’re pretty worthless.
    For example, the idea that you’re matching candidates to the electorate (even if it’s a lesser factor) is a new one, and seems pointless to me. A computer could do that analysis. It’s hardly the stuff of professional opinioning.
    As I said before, your endorsements often lead me to conclude you’re answering questions other than “what is best.” They can’t be explained any other way (ie, the marriage amendment). To some extent you’ve confirmed that, although I suspect there are other factors you haven’t admitted. Yet.

  29. bud

    Ahmadinejad welcomed heartily in Iraq
    From Monday’s Globe and Mail
    March 2, 2008 at 9:53 PM EST
    BAGHDAD — It’s a damning indication of how poorly things have gone for the United States during its five-year misadventure in Iraq that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can drive in broad daylight though this war-ravaged city and spend the night at the presidential palace, but George W. Bush can’t.
    Mr. Ahmadinejad was greeted with lavish ceremony yesterday as he became the first Iranian President to visit Baghdad, a trip some said reflected Iran’s great and growing power in Iraq and how severely the U.S. effort to remake Iraq into a Western-friendly democracy has gone awry.
    Nearly 4,000 American soldiers have died since the war began in 2003, but Iraq’s U.S.-backed government warmly welcomed Washington’s No. 1 enemy with flowers and a band.
    Apparently ignoring repeated U.S. charges that Iran is destabilizing his country, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani smiled broadly as he greeted Mr. Ahmadinejad outside his palace. Hailing a new era in ties between their states, the two men clasped hands and exchanged traditional kisses on the cheeks before walking together down a red carpet to review an honour guard as a military band played the two national anthems.
    -Globe and Mail
    Given Mr. Ahmadinejad’s apparent popular support with the people of Iraq, (at least in the Shiite areas), perhaps the State should endorse him as it’s leader. Of course that would require Iran to annex part of Iraq. That makes about as much sense as endorsing a person because he happens to be a good “fit” with the district.

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