By the end of a long presidential campaign, it’s hard for anyone to come up with an endorsement that does little more than rehash the talking points and familiar memes most of us have heard a million times. But I was struck this week by how one of the four endorsements of Barack Obama I paid attention to this week was clearly superior. It was the one by Colin Powell – republished as text by the Sun-Times and in my view more sophisticated and persuasive than what the editorial boards of the Sun-Times, Tribune and New York Times could muster. Let’s take a look.
Endorsement: Chicago Tribune
Impact: 6.5 on a 10-point scale.
Why: A conservative newspaper endorsing its first Democrat for president is mitigated by Obama’s favorite son status.
Cliche Alert: Obama is Lincoln.
Worst Argument: “The change that Obama talks about so much is not simply a change in this policy or that one. It is not fundamentally about lobbyists or Washington insiders. Obama envisions a change in the way we deal with one another in politics and government. His opponents may say this is empty, abstract rhetoric.”
And it still does.
Best Argument: “It is, though, hard to figure John McCain these days. He argued that President Bush’s tax cuts were fiscally irresponsible, but he now supports them. He promises a balanced budget by the end of his first term, but his tax cut plan would add an estimated $4.2 trillion in debt over 10 years . . . We do, though, think Obama would govern as much more of a pragmatic centrist than many people expect.”
Mixed Message: “The Republican Party, the party of limited government, has lost its way . . . [Obama’s] economic policy team is peppered with advisers who support free trade. He has been called a ‘University of Chicago Democrat’ – a reference to the famed free-market Chicago school of economics, which puts faith in markets.”
Notably Missing: The names Tony Rezko, Emil Jones, Todd Stroger and Richard M. Daley.
Endorsement: New York Times
Impact: 0 on a 10-point scale.
Why: The only way the Times could ever have impact with an endorsement in a presidential race would be to back a Republican.
Cliche Alert: “Hyperbole is the currency of presidential campaigns, but this year the nation’s future truly hangs in the balance.”
Worst Argument: “Both candidates talk tough on terrorism, and neither has ruled out military action to end Iran’s nuclear weapons program. But Mr. Obama has called for a serious effort to try to wean Tehran from its nuclear ambitions with more credible diplomatic overtures and tougher sanctions. Mr. McCain’s willingness to joke about bombing Iran was frightening.”
Best Argument: “In his convention speech in Denver, Mr. Obama said, ‘Government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves: protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology’.”
Mixed Message: “Mr. McCain could have seized the high ground on energy and the environment. Earlier in his career, he offered the first plausible bill to control America’s emissions of greenhouse gases. Now his positions are a caricature of that record: think Ms. Palin leading chants of ‘drill, baby, drill.’
“Mr. Obama has endorsed some offshore drilling, but as part of a comprehensive strategy including big investments in new, clean technologies.”
Notably Missing: The names of Tony Rezko, Emil Jones, Todd Stroger and Richard M. Daley.
Impact: 0 on a 10-point scale.
Why: While Tim Novak and Lynn Sweet have consistently broken big stories critical of Obama, their work has been overwhelmed by the sweep and inanity of it’s nearly universal pro-Obama roster of columnists and market-driven pro-Obama news judgments. Plus, budget cuts have decimated the editorial board so drastically that for all we know this was decided upon by a temp.
Cliche Alert: “Americans are ready to be one country.”
I see no evidence of that – particularly among Obama’s fiercest partisans.
Worst Argument: “Sen. Obama climbed the ladder of Chicago Democratic politics – from community organizer to state senator to U.S. senator – while dodging the tag of ‘machine-made’.”
Best Argument: “We agree with Sen. Obama on many of the most pressing issues of the day.”
Mixed Message: “We watched in admiration, here in Chicago, as he developed alliances with the old Harold Washington coalition, but also with party stalwarts such as state Sen. Emil Jones.”
Notably Missing: The word “ethics.”
Endorsement: Colin Powell
Impact: 8 on a 10-point scale.
Why: If Colin Powell doesn’t fear handing the nuclear codes over to Obama, then many swing-voters won’t either. One point deducted for Powell’s blatant political opportunism, however, and another point deducted for lacking courage in the run-up to the Iraq War when the country needed him the most.
Cliche Alert: “I think he is a transformational figure.”
Worst Argument: “Either one of them, I think, would be a good president.”
Best Argument: “I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said: such things as, ‘Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.’ Well, the correct answer is he is not a Muslim; he’s a Christian, has always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, ‘What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?’ The answer’s ‘No, that’s not America.’ Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion he’s Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists. This is not the way we should be doing it in America.”
Mixed Message: “So, when I look at all of this and I think back to my Army career, we’ve got two individuals, either one of them could be a good president.”
Notably Missing: The names of Tony Rezko, Emil Jones, Todd Stroger, Richard M. Daley, and Abraham Lincoln.