We have often argued here in Swampland over whether endorsements really “matter.” But some of them have meaning that goes beyond whether they actually move any votes.
Back in the latter half of the Reagan era, when I was a brand-new reporter to Washington covering Capitol Hill, the Speaker of the House’s press secretary–an excitable young man named Chris Matthews*–gave me a valuable bit of advice for reporting about the arcane world of foreign policy: If you want to know where the House Democrats are going to end up, and how they are going to get there, go talk to Lee Hamilton, the number two Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The Indiana Congressman was the closest thing the party had to a rudder in those years, and when he spoke–always quietly, when everyone else was shouting–people in both parties knew that they should stop and listen. Fortunately for me, his office door was almost always open.
Hamilton’s stature only grew: He became Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, co-chairman of the Iran-Contra Committee and ultimately chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. By the time 9/11 happened, he had retired from Congress and was running the Woodrow Wilson Center, but was an obvious choice to be called back into duty as vice-chair of that commission, too.
So I was struck by today’s AP report that Hamilton has decided to endorse Barack Obama:
“I begin by asking myself what kind of leadership the country needs at this juncture and I think, for me at least, the answer is that you want a candidate that will try to bring together a country that is very evenly divided, a country in which partisanship has been very sharp and to try to get a candidate who will create a new sense of national unity and will try to transcend the divisions within the country,” Hamilton said.
Is that likely to clinch Indiana for Obama on May 6? Probably not. But it’s a vote of confidence that could resonate long after that.
* He later wrote a book called “Hardball.” I’m not sure what he’s been up to since then….