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More about the McCain endorsement

MANY WHO KNOW my views — and between my columns and my blog, readers probably know my mind better than they do any other editor’s of their acquaintance — assumed all along that we would endorse John McCain.

I’ve made it clear many times that I thought we should have done so in 2000 (in the GOP primary). And my belief in his suitability remains undiminished, despite much that has happened in this general election campaign. (I found both Sen. McCain and Barack Obama more appealing running against the angry elements in their respective parties, rather than as their standard-bearers.) My judgments tend to be cumulative, based on years of observation more than the spin cycle topic of the day.

But to assume this endorsement was inevitable is to presume to know more than I did.

First, I am not the editorial board; I merely preside over it. Associate Editors Warren Bolton (whose strong, eloquent dissenting opinion is on the facing page) and Cindi Ross Scoppe both have their say, as does my boss, President and Publisher Henry Haitz. To absurdly condense a two-hour discussion: Henry and I favored McCain, Warren preferred Obama, and Cindi wasn’t sure — and she is seldom unsure about anything. She asked me whether a tie meant no endorsement, or whether Henry’s and my votes outweighed hers and Warren’s. I acknowledged that if it came to that, yes — our votes counted more. (In 2000, the board was evenly split between Bush and McCain, with our then-publisher on one side and me on the other, so I lost.) Only when she thought the matter was thus settled did she say she thought she was leaning ever so slightly toward Sen. Obama. She remains torn. (She plans her own column on the subject for next week.)

So this was not a foregone conclusion. But lest you think we’re terribly divided, remember that we unanimously and enthusiastically endorsed both McCain and Obama in their respective primaries in January. We just split over which we like more.

Even if I had had to decide all alone, I would have struggled with not endorsing Barack Obama. I meant every word that we said in praising him in January. Also, ever since I became editorial page editor in 1997, I have looked forward to the day that we could break the paper’s long pattern of endorsing Republicans for president, if only because in some people’s minds, that makes us a “Republican newspaper,” and I find it deeply distasteful to be identified with either party. Yes, I can point to the fact that in my tenure, we have endorsed slightly more Democrats than Republicans — and we spend far more time on those state and local races than we do on the presidential. But people attach huge importance to the presidential endorsement — many don’t pay attention to anything else. So I’ve hoped for years that the national Democratic Party would give us a nominee we could support.

Barack Obama is that Democrat. We would happily endorse him over Mitt Romney, or Rudy Giuliani, or Mike Huckabee — and certainly over the current occupant of the White House.

But he was up against the one Republican who happens to be the national political figure I respect and admire most, and have wanted to see in the White House for at least a decade. So his timing couldn’t have been worse.

I don’t regret endorsing John McCain one bit; I’m proud to see this day. But I hate missing the chance to endorse Obama.

Beyond that, let me briefly address several questions that came up on my blog after we posted our endorsement online Friday (I answer them more fully on the blog itself):

Why does the endorsement not talk about the current economic crisis? Because it doesn’t figure in our preference for Sen. McCain. Both senators backed the $700 billion rescue plan, which I think they were right to do. Beyond that, I remain unconvinced that either of them has a better idea what to do next than the other. I wish I did, but I don’t. So I consider their positions on this critical issue something of a wash, and therefore out of place in the endorsement.

Why so many words about the Colombian Free Trade Agreement? Because it has broader implications that do illustrate a clear, dramatic difference between the candidates, and one that points unequivocally to McCain. Besides, it is an issue you may not have heard as much about (meaning it took a certain number of words merely to explain), and if an endorsement accomplishes nothing else, we hope it helps you think of things you might not have thought about otherwise.

Why didn’t you mention Sarah Palin? Because the endorsement was about why we did choose McCain, not about why we “shouldn’t have.” I don’t think Sarah Palin is ready to be president. She has about as much experience in government as Barack Obama, but let’s face it — he’s smarter. If I were choosing the president solely on the basis of his choice of a running mate, I’d pick Obama, because I like Joe Biden. But I’ve never picked a presidential preference on that basis before, and see insufficient reason to start now. Bottom line: For me, the reasons to favor Sen. McCain outweigh my misgivings about Gov. Palin.

We could go on and on, and we will. Please come to my blog and continue the conversation.

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