In today's Hartford Courant, Editorial Page Editor, Carolyn Lumsden endeavors to explain why and how the Hartford Courant endorses candidates prior to elections.
Lumsden explains that examining candidates is a duty of journalists, as compelled by the founding document of our nation:
We do this because we are obliged to. It is our civic mission. Ours is the only industry singled out for protection by the Bill of Rights — "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press," says its very first amendment — because the Founders saw an unfettered press as crucial to an informed citizenry and a check on the powerful. With that privilege comes a duty to be more than an observer, especially at election time.
Noble and true. Lumsden goes on to explain more of the process - interviewing candidates, comparing notes with other editorial board members, conciously separating themselves from the news staff.
"Our department sits on the other side of the building from the news operation," Lumsden writes. As if the physical separation by a long hallway somehow resaaures us that editoral writers and newswriters never communicate on the thing they both write about - the news. And what would be the harm if news writers spoke with editorial writers anyway?
Personally, I'd find more reassurance in a declaration that editorial staff sequesters themselves from advertising staff, business staff, corporate offices and the publisher.
But unfortunately, that's not the case. I've heard from more than one Courant source that the endorsements of George Bush for president (Because you can't read that absurd endorsement on Courant archives for free, I include it in it's entireity below), and the late endoresements of John Rowland for governor, both came as a result of the publisher, using his single, powerful vote, to outweigh a majority of support by editorial board members for opposing candidates. And, in fact, the endorsement of Joe Lieberman over Ned Lamont is questionable for the same reasons.
In the end, the opinion, and hence endorsement, of the publisher, and the corporate office trumps anything the editorial board comes up with.
How does that influence our interpretation of Lumsden's explanation? It makes Courant endorsements easy to discount or to dismiss entirely.
The Absurd Hartford Courant Editorial Board 2004 Bush endorsement
As in many past elections, Americans are closely divided over who should be the next president. It's not a clear-cut case of one candidate being far superior to the other. Yet history is not made by those who stand on the sidelines and wring their hands. The people must choose on Nov. 2, and The Courant recommends George W. Bush over John F. Kerry.
A cataclysmic event occurred nine months into Mr. Bush's presidency -- the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- that changed America and reordered the criteria for judging who should be president.
In this age of global terrorism, Americans must have a resolute leader. President Bush is better prepared than his challenger to manage the security needs of the nation. His promise to prevent attacks on the United States by taking the fight to the enemy abroad is one of the main reasons we recommend Mr. Bush for a second term.
The strategy to oust the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and rebuild that country is working reasonably well, and Mr. Bush deserves credit for it, as he does for persuading Libya's Moammar Gadhafi to open his country for arms inspections.
There are cracks in Mr. Bush's record, as there are in any president's. His major justifications for the invasion of Iraq were based on bad intelligence, as it turned out, and he did not plan well enough for winning the peace.
Further, Mr. Bush has not been as prudent a steward of the nation's economy and environment as he should be.
That said, Mr. Bush's positive, decisive leadership qualities and the perilous times we live in are a good match. He is the candidate who can best protect the nation. The Democratic challenger's vague and conflicting prescriptions for energizing America and defusing the terrorist threat do not measure up.
Why Mr. Bush?
The president's confidence and idealism saw the nation through the dark days after 9/11. The commission that studied the failures leading to the attacks faulted the performance of the nation's intelligence agencies. Post-attack, however, Americans couldn't have asked more of the president. His strong, calm leadership soothed a shattered and uncertain people.
At home and abroad, Mr. Bush took immediate steps to shore up our defenses and put the terrorists to flight. Within a month, a U.S.- led coalition began a war that toppled the oppressive Taliban regime in Kabul and scattered al-Qaida into mountain caves. Mr. Bush strengthened a useful alliance with the Pakistani government of President Pervez Musharraf to fight the terrorist threat.
There is more work to be done to stabilize Afghanistan so that it no longer will be a haven for fanatics. But the unprecedented presidential election on Oct. 9, in which millions of women were among the voters, was a landmark affirmation of Mr. Bush's belief in rooting democracy in a part of the world that has never known its blessings.
Mr. Bush should have shown more patience before invading Iraq. Given more time, the continuing sanctions and the encouragement of homegrown Iraqi resistance, it might have been possible to drive Saddam Hussein from power with far less bloodshed and with a coalition as solid and committed as the one formed by President George H.W. Bush in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Still, the dictator posed a threat to peace. Now he is gone and Iraq and the world are better off without him. And if the president's optimistic plans work out, some form of representative government for Iraqis is in the offing.
Mr. Bush has not been a one-dimensional president concerned only with security; nor has he been a leader content to press an agenda of small ideas. He has marshaled support in Congress for big -- some would say historic -- domestic initiatives.
The president's tax cuts have helped to stimulate growth and shake off the effects of a particularly persistent recession that began before he took office and was made worse by 9/11. The economy is growing at a decent rate and jobs are starting to come back. Tax relief was the right thing to do; it's too bad that the cuts are being jeopardized by reckless spending in Congress.
Mr. Bush rallied bipartisan support for the No Child Left Behind act that seeks to improve teaching and student performance and hold failing schools accountable. Washington needs to fully fund implementation of the law, as promised, and modify federal rules to give states flexibility to exempt certain students from tests. But make no mistake: This Bush initiative has the potential to transform public education.
Using Republican majorities in Congress, Mr. Bush succeeded in making more changes in Medicare than at any other time since the vital program was enacted 40 years ago. The changes are intended to stabilize the health care program for seniors and the disabled and give recipients a prescription drug benefit for the first time.
The drug benefit, which doesn't fully kick in until 2006, is confusing and requires more out-of-pocket expense than most supporters wanted. It doesn't allow the government to negotiate lower prices with the pharmaceutical companies and it bans the reimportation of U.S.-made drugs from Canada. In other words, it's far from perfect. But it's a start, to be fixed in later years. Mr. Bush should get credit for pushing through the first social entitlement in two generations.
The president can share credit with the likes of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut for creating the Department of Homeland Security and for supporting key recommendations of the 9/11 commission. Mr. Bush at first opposed the department and the commission, but what's important is that he came around. There was no choice but to reorganize the federal government's security and protection agencies after the terrorist attacks. What we had wasn't working.
Add to this list Mr. Bush's continued commitment to diversity. As he did when he was governor of Texas, the president has appointed many accomplished members of racial and ethnic minority groups to top government jobs.
Why Not Mr. Kerry?
Democratic voters in primary and caucus states flocked to the junior senator from Massachusetts earlier this year after it appeared that former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, thought to be too radical and too anti-war to win in November, would grab the party's presidential nomination.
Yet then, as now, Mr. Kerry was seen by many of his supporters as only the lesser of two evils. In the Democratic primaries he was the anti-Dean. Now he is the "Not George Bush" candidate. That's not good enough.
For all of his impressive debating skills, intelligence and experience in the Senate, Mr. Kerry has run an uninspiring, vacillating campaign. In large measure, it has been negative and reactive. He has articulated no grand vision that tells Americans where he wants to take the country or how he would protect its people in a dangerous world.
On the one issue that most divides Americans -- the war in Iraq - - Mr. Kerry comes up muddled. This decorated veteran has taken almost every conceivable position on the conflict, to the dismay of both supporters and opponents. He thought Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the United States. He voted to authorize the use of force. Now he says he was misled and it was wrong of Mr. Bush to invade Iraq.
Mr. Kerry says he has a plan to win the peace and end the occupation. But it is an imitation of the plan implemented, although belatedly, by the White House. Train Iraqi security forces? Hold elections in January? Accelerate the rebuilding effort in Iraq? Seek more help from allies? That's what Mr. Kerry promises to do. That's what the Bush administration is trying to do.
Mr. Kerry's insistence that he can accomplish his four-point plan faster and better than Mr. Bush is not persuasive. Although Mr. Kerry may be a more sympathetic figure in Europe and other regions traditionally friendly to the United States, that doesn't mean he can talk foreign governments into committing troops and treasure to Iraq in the quantities needed to supplant Americans.
We agree with the Democratic nominee on some key issues. Like him, we favor abortion rights, gun control, strong environmental protection and the provision of health care coverage to the millions without it.
Yet opinions without the leadership ability to bring them to fruition matter little. Mr. Kerry has been in the Senate for 19 years and has passed few if any major pieces of legislation bearing his name. He is a loner. He has not developed a strong bipartisan network in the upper chamber. There's not much evidence to suggest that the Democratic nominee would as president have the clout and discipline needed to guide his agenda through a sharply divided Congress, regardless of its merits.
Further, it's doubtful that taxpayers could afford the cost of some of Mr. Kerry's ideas.
If There Are Four More Years
An endorsement of Mr. Bush in the Nov. 2 election does not mean that The Courant's editorial page is committed to support all of his actions if he wins a second term. This newspaper has criticized the administration's policies on some fronts and reserves the right to continue doing so if the president is given a new lease.
Here are some first-term weaknesses that need fixing. Mr. Bush must:
Rein in profligate spending by Congress. The president has not vetoed one appropriations bill in his first four years.
Make a priority of rebuilding relations with U.S. allies. There is strength in unity.
Correct the impression that civil liberties aren't important to him. Mr. Bush has seemed too willing to allow abuses of prisoners' rights, for example, in such places as Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Stop the rollback of tough environmental protection standards.
For the sake of uniting the country, say no to fundamentalists who want to impose their brand of theology on social issues. These crusades range from relentless attempts to restrict women's reproductive rights to opposing federal funding of promising embryonic stem cell research to fighting for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Those are yesterday's wars.
Overall, Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry have run credible campaigns, notwithstanding some of the outrageous accusations issuing lately from each camp. Each man is capable of being president.
We are rarely blessed with perfect choices on who should lead the nation. On balance, President Bush has compiled a record good enough to merit a second term. He has been an agent of change and a strong leader in a dangerous time.