In 2004, the Denver Post gave George W. Bush the most intellectually contorted endorsement imaginable, in part because MediaNews Group head man and Post publisher Dean Singleton, a personal friend of Dubya, more or less big-footed the editorial board into boosting his pal. ("Choice Cut," an October 2004 Message column, tells the tale.) This time around, however, the paper went the other way, opting to back the candidacy of Democrat Barack Obama. But it did so in a manner almost as weird as the one four years ago, running two pieces along with the fairly unenthusiastic Obama essay -- one by editorial page editor Dan Haley that was even less laudatory, the other by editorial writer Chuck Plunkett, who called the choice flat-out wrong.
"Barack Obama For President," the Post's endorsement, isn't entirely bereft of compliments. The authors of the piece say he's "better equipped to lead America back to a prosperous future" and quote Christopher Buckley's line about him having "a first-rate intellect and a first-rate temperament." But these lines are supplemented by plenty of qualms. "Frankly, neither Obama nor McCain has a comprehensive plan to end the economic crisis, or to even calm our jittery nerves," the editorial argues shortly before offering advice that seems straight out of the McCain playbook:
However, we're concerned he may increase capital gains taxes at a time when the economy is starved for investment capital. Indeed, we'd favor eliminating capital gains taxes entirely if such profits are reinvested in another enterprise within one year.
We also would urge Obama to expand investment tax credits for businesses, to put profits back to work creating new jobs.
Oh yeah: The paper tosses a valentine to failed Republican candidate Mitt Romney, even suggesting that Obama prove his devotion to bipartisanship by asking the Mitt to chair his health-care-reform task force or serve as his economic czar. Of course, Romney's positions directly contradict Obama's on loads of points, but who cares about that?
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"How We Decided," Dan Haley's companion article, counters these inconsistencies with lukewarm explanations. After noting that members of the editorial board, as well as the nation as a whole, seem to be influenced more by negatives than positives these days, he writes, "Maybe Obama can change that. I have my doubts. But wouldn't it be nice?" He adds, "Today, with our endorsement of Obama, we lean further to the left than my own personal compass. But it's where the majority of our board is, and that's OK."
A ringing endorsement? More like a dull thud that carries over to "A Dissenting Voice," Plunkett's offering. Here's the crux of his argument:
John McCain — though it is true he acted erratically in the overwhelming presence of Obama's personality — strikes me as the kind of tried and tested leader we ought to have in these uncertain times. A McCain presidency would not be a third term of the horrors we've seen. He is far superior to George W. Bush.
McCain is a person of character, a deep reader with an electrified curiosity, and a man of passion who wants America to shine as a beacon to the world.
McCain has the kind of proven bipartisan record Washington needs to steer us through.
In person, McCain exudes a calm certainty the cameras don't capture.
Obama, though made-for- TV, has a resume thinner than Sarah Palin's.
In some ways, Plunkett's prose is more persuasive than the main Post editorial, since it presents a straight-forward view, rather than trying to balance every pro with a con. Still, it's neither as blunt nor as effective as a McCain-bashing letter penned by Richard Scudder, the chairman of MediaNews Group, which owns the Post. Scudder's words were the first public hint that the Post might be open to an Obama endorsement despite Singleton's own personal views -- and the paper probably would have been better off letting him handle the chore of speaking for the board. Instead, the Post charged too many chefs with not spoiling the soup. -- Michael Roberts