President William Howard Taft, the pride of Cincinnati, lamented that whenever he named someone to a post in his administration, he would inevitably “create nine enemies and one ingrate.”
The same thing can happen when a newspaper publishes its political endorsements. As The Blade works its way through its endorsement sequence for the November election — our choice for U.S. senator from Ohio appears on the adjacent page — I'm reminded of how the big man felt.
Endorsing candidates and ballot issues remains one of this newspaper's most vital duties, and also one of the most misunderstood and maligned. Even as new and social media gain ever-greater influence over political communications, the traditional endorsement retains its importance, at least at The Blade.
That displeases some readers. Again this election season, they are letting us know — loudly — that we have no business making recommendations in election contests. Often that's because we don't support their candidate, but not always.
“Don‘t tell me who I should vote for," they say. “Just give me the facts and I'll make up my own mind.” Other readers tell us, again, that they find our endorsements indispensable as a guide to whom to vote against. We hear that our recommendations prove that we’re Marxists and corporate shills — at the same time.
We timed our fall endorsements to start just before the beginning of early voting in Ohio last week. But polls suggest many of you already have decided how you'll vote in the big races, and nothing is likely to change your mind.
Considering such matters, many newspapers no longer make endorsements, concluding they're more trouble than they're worth. Done right, the process is time-consuming and arduous. So why does The Blade still do something that so annoys some customers and apparently has no effect on others?
Here's why: Every day, our editorials take positions on issues of public policy, local to global. Voters elect political candidates to make policy, and to spend our tax dollars.
So it's a logical extension of The Blade's opinion franchise to identify the candidates we think would do the best job of executing the policies that reflect our positions, and to share that information with our readers.
We aren't racetrack touts, predicting which candidates will finish first. We'll endorse candidates who we know have little chance of winning, if we're persuaded they would best represent a particular constituency.
Top-of-the-ticket contests — and endorsements in them — get the most public scrutiny. But endorsements often have the greatest impact in down-ballot races and on ballot questions, for which voters often have less information.
We pay special attention to many of these elections. At the same time, we don't feel compelled to make recommendations in contests that aren't competitive or offer equally dreadful candidates.
A persistent conspiracy theory holds that the newspaper slants its coverage of political stories to favor the candidates it prefers. But The Blade's political reporters and editors have no role in our endorsement process.
And the opinion pages exert no influence over our campaign reporting. That's the reality, whether the tinfoil-hat brigade chooses to buy it or not.
As you'd expect, The Blade's publisher and editor-in-chief, John Robinson Block, has the final say on all of our endorsements. But they are more than mere expressions of personal or partisan preference.
We talk to the major candidates — when they'll talk to us; some candidates decide they have better ways to campaign than to meet with newspaper editorial boards. Neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney has accepted The Blade's invitation to sit down with us for an endorsement interview. Note to both campaigns: There's still time.
Aside from talking to candidates about the key issues they want to address, we monitor their campaigns and examine their literature and Web sites. We research their backgrounds — professional, public, and personal, when that's relevant.
We check their campaign finance statements, to see which interest groups and individuals are giving them money. We talk to political analysts we trust, to get an outside view. And we talk to voters, to find out what you want to know about the candidates.
Early voting complicates the endorsement process. When we announce our support of a candidate weeks before the election, there's always the chance of an "October surprise" — the candidate does something ghastly on the campaign trail or gets caught fudging his resume. We reserve the right to withdraw or change an endorsement, but only as a last resort.
We make our endorsements with our readers in mind, not the candidates. Which is just as well: We're more likely to hear from candidates we don't endorse, blaming us for sabotaging their campaigns, than from those we do endorse, thanking us for our support.
We aren't trying to dictate your vote; that would be futile and undesirable in equal measure. But we do hope our endorsements offer you useful information about this year's campaigns, and give you credible arguments to consider.
That's why we think it's our responsibility to continue to make endorsements. And whether you agree with them, reject them, or ignore them, it's your responsibility to inform yourself and make your own endorsements on your ballot.
David Kushma is editor of The Blade. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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