In the Arena


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Some thoughts on the Des Moines Register and Boston Globe endorsements:

1. The Globe’s endorsement of Obama is a more persuasive piece of writing, and argument, than the Register’s endorsement of Clinton. For me, the best case for Clinton, which the Register chooses not to make, has been the quality of the positions she’s taken in this campaign–especially on health insurance and global warming–and also her relatively unique mastery of national defense issues, via her service on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Obama’s failure to provide a truly universal health insurance program and his lack of knowledge about the military and the intelligence community are real disadvantages he has versus Clinton. Whether Clinton’s policy advantages and broader expertise trump the much-needed fresh start that Obama promises (or the war against “corporate greed” that Edwards wants to fight) is a matter of personal taste. All three have run good campaigns.
(I should note that, as Time’s only political columnist who is also a full-time staff member, I’m not allowed to make endorsements. The other political columnists are independent contractors who earn their livings, for the most part, elsewhere–thus Bill Kristol has touted John McCain in the Weekly Standard in the past, and Samantha Power has advised Obama on foreign policy. I’m allowed to have opinions about candidates, but not a stated personal preference–a line so fine as to be almost invisible at times, but a line nonetheless.)

2. The Register endorsement is, generically, more important than the Globe’s endorsement. The Globe has influence in the Boston suburbs along New Hampshire’s southern tier, but it is still consider something of an interloper in New Hampshire electoral politics. The Register, by contrast, is the most important paper in iowa. Four years ago, its endorsement helped vault John Edwards into second place in the caucuses–he gained a Huckabeesque 25 points in the final month of that campaign. The effect of that editorial was to say: Hey, it’s ok to vote for this new guy. I’m not sure the Clinton endorsement will be as important. People know her and their opinions of her are pretty well set. The endorsement will help in one very important way, though: It breaks the skein of bad news that has overtaken her campaign. With her big Iowa tour being launched today, Clinton has the opportunity for a fresh start.

3. The big loser is John McCain, endorsed by papers perceived to be liberal. Not gonna help him with the G.O.P.s conservative base.

In this, as in all other matters relating to newspaper editorials, it is best to remember Murray Kempton’s dictum: “It is the job of editorial writers to come down from the hills after the battle is over and shoot the wounded.”