editorial board deserves some praise for revealing its process for endorsing in the Democratic Presidential primary. Some, far smaller, newspapers started years ago to post their candidate interviews on their websites. Last night, The Times expanded its weekly documentary, “The Weekly,” from 30 minutes to one hour, to provide a video including several candidate interview snippets and bits of editorial board deliberations, then presented its editorial endorsement. Opening up the process was an improvement but sometimes more reality TV than complete transparency.
The Times announced it will post complete transcripts of all candidate interviews on its website “over the next few weeks.” It has already posted the Bernie Sanders interview, amplified by editorial board annotations to augment or contextualize the candidate’s comments. They should have done that with all the candidates immediately. They should also include more than the “Readers Digest” version of their deliberations, available in print and podcast. Their final product was a disappointing twofer, winnowing their preferences for each lane: Elizabeth Warren if you’re looking for a radical structural reorganization and Amy Klobuchar if you’re looking for a more moderate, evolutionary approach. In leaving us with two choices, the endorsement dodged the central issue facing the Democratic Party.
As a longtime editorialist, I was trained to avoid a “both/and” approach to problem solving, no matter how difficult the dilemma. Voters (unless, perhaps, we were to adopt ranked choice voting) don’t have the luxury of both/and. You go into the voting booth and mark your ballot either for candidate A or for candidate B. Given the urgency we face in 2020, each voter must decide whether this country needs a fierce, brilliant, law professor who wants to rearrange the anatomy of the body politic or a strong, smart pragmatist who has accomplished much legislatively and run successful campaigns in red as well as blue regions. Which approach does the NY Times editorial board favor? Darned if I know. They clearly pulled their punches.
Voters, especially early primary and caucus voters, would have been better served by being able to see the entire editorial deliberation to ascertain which leadership characteristics and issues were most important to the editorialists and the extent to which those priorities resonated with them. (I’d like to have heard how they parsed the differences among Klobuchar, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Michael Bloomberg, though Bloomberg didn’t participate in the interview process. One potential moderate missing from consideration was Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, whose brother, NYT editorial page editor James Bennet, recused himself from the process.)
The editorial board notes a declining faith in the ability of our institutions to correct the societal inequities and myriad process perversions that challenge us today. The editorial posits the Democrats’ dilemma as a choice between solutions that are radical or those that are realist. In endorsing both Warren and Klobuchar, the Times is identifying their sense of the strongest candidate in each of the two categories. Let us hope that they drill deeper.
The overriding issue for voters in the Democratic Primary must be defeating Donald Trump. Without doing that and defeating him decisively, there will be no overcoming problems POTUS has either created or exacerbated.
What would my editorial have said? that a non-radical pragmatist, committed to the values embodied in all the candidates’ positions but at a pace and tenor more inclusive than exclusive, is the way to win the independents needed for success in November. (Think 1972, when the purists spurned Ed Muskie and nominated George McGovern. They won the battle but lost the war, giving us a second term of Richard Milhous Nixon.)
Democrats must have a nominee who can enthusiastically rally all defeated primary candidates and form a team united behind common cause. Editorial endorsements may not have the clout they used to have, but they can help voters to make a more informed choice. It’s dispiriting to think that the selection of Trump’s ultimate challenger could depend on a tiny minority of party activists in two early non-representative states. It’s encouraging that the New York Times editorial board is experimenting with new ways to be open and constructive, with, optimally, more to follow.
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