With the presidential election one week away, newspaper editorial boards across the country are announcing their endorsements. In Florida, the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times endorsed President Barack Obama while the Orlando Sentinel and the Sun Sentinel threw their weight behind Republican challenger Mitt Romney. For its part, the Palm Beach Post is choosing not to endorse a candidate for president and is instead presenting a case for each candidate to its readers.
As the endorsements have come rolling out, I have heard many people proclaim that newspapers should not endorse a candidate, that doing so violates their journalistic integrity. In some cases, this is mere sour grapes over a newspapers’ endorsement masquerading as indignation at the corruption of the Fourth Estate. In others, the feeling is sincere.
I believe city newspapers’ editorial boards — distinct within the newspapers themselves — should endorse candidates for public office. Even in a fractured media age, they remain a strong voice in the community (maybe still the strongest), and as such they owe it to their readers to reach a conclusion, and to share it. After all, if the people who cover politics closest can’t decide whom they support, how are the rest of us supposed to?
That said, in reading the endorsements of various Florida publications, including the ones mentioned above, I spot few differences in their assessments of the candidates. All seem to agree that Obama is less inspiring now than he was in 2008, that he inherited a historic mess and tried vigorously to steer the U.S. economy back toward prosperity, that his trying has not revived the economy sufficiently, that he deserves kudos in general for his handling of foreign policy but criticism for failing to unite Democrats and Republicans on the domestic front.
As for Romney, there’s consensus that he’s ideologically wishy-washy, that he pandered to the conservative Right in the primaries and that his recent shift to the political center warrants skepticism, that his business background bodes well for his ability to turnaround the economy — viewed by all as the overwhelmingly most important issue — and that he’s proven he’s at least qualified to be president, even if he’s not necessarily the better candidate for the job.
The major Florida publications seem to agree on these points, though they value them differently and therefore reach different conclusions in their endorsements. All of this is respectable if you accept the following premises:
1. That improving the economy is the number one issue
2. That Mitt Romney has proven his presidential bona fides
3. That Obama is less inspiring now than he was in his first run for the White House
Let’s start with the economy. There’s no question that it is a hugely important issue. The U.S. economy is sluggish and people are hurting and the next president needs to do everything he can to improve it. We also know that the next president, whoever he is, will do everything he can to improve it. No president desires a bad economy: it’s bad politics. (An opposition congress, as we have seen, may cheer for economic failure for its own political gain.)
But my primary concern is not whether the next president will strive to improve the economy, or even if he will succeed in doing so. To me, the primary concern is how he will do so. Some hear Obama’s emphasis on establishing “fairness” in the economy as vacuous liberalese. I hear it as precisely what needs to be done at this moment in American history. It’s not about punishing the wealthy but about reassuring the masses that the American system is not rigged, a paramount imperative.
There is no question in my mind that Romney’s policies will increase the inequality in America. This is partially based on a value judgment: I truly don’t believe he thinks the rapidly increasing gulf between “the 1%” and “the 99%” is a bad thing. But it’s also based on policy grounds. Top-heavy tax cuts and reckless deregulation exacerbated the problem, and yet Romney offers precisely that prescription to get America back on track.
The question of whether Obama can improve the economy in a way that reenforces the middle class is a valid one. My answer: Yes, he can. In averting a second Great Depression and kindling modest economic growth while other rich countries have faltered, he earned my confidence. Romney likes to suggest that Obama’s lack of first-hand business experience renders him clueless as a steward of the nation’s economy. This is nonsense. The nation is not a business, its citizens not employees. Furthermore, recent history does not support this theory. Think of the men who presided over a strong economy: Reagan, Clinton — neither a successful businessman.
Moving on to the second premise, that Romney has proven himself qualified to be President of the United States. While I’ll concede that he’s a natural-born citizen who is over the age of 35, I can’t say that his excessive pandering and ideological shapeshifting, his backwards beliefs on gay marriage and abortion, or his incoherent belligerence in matters of foreign policy have me ready to stamp his forehead with the Presidential Seal.
But the “presidential” question is moot. Whether Romney’s qualified or not, he’s eligible and in the running.
Finally, the third premise: Obama is less inspiring now than he was in his first run for the White House. Yes, you would be hard pressed to find a single Obama supporter who is more enthusiastic today than four years ago (I’m certainly not). But that was a foregone conclusion on Election Day 2008. The positive energy, the historic glow around Obama’s ostensible realization of King’s long-time-comin’ “Dream” had to dissipate as hard work and hard realities revealed themselves.
But this does nothing to belittle what his election means — means, not meant — for America. I use the present tense because that meaning is still evolving. As many have observed, America is not “post racial” in the wake of Obama’s election. Far from it. In fact, the last four years have stunk of veiled racism from regressives on the Right, those who have called Obama “the food stamp president” and demanded to see his birth certificate, proclaiming him and his ideas “foreign”.
And this is why I find the prospect of his reelection as inspiring, if not more so, than his first victory. It would be a repudiation of this vile attempt to resurrect the worst in American history, a stern rebuke to those who would resort to the Southern Strategy for their own political gain. It would also cast deserved opprobrium on the cynical obstructionism of the House Republicans, whom I believe will go down in history, as a group, as self-concerned cowards.
I would view a Romney victory, on the other hand, as a tragic failure on the part of the American electorate to denounce a mentality, minted in the money pits of Wall Street, that believes a majority of Americans (or at least 47 percent of them) are leeches on society, that the pursuit of profit is a morally good act — nuances be damned! — and that those who find themselves low on the financial food chain deserve that fate.
That’s why I’m voting for Obama.