Why do we not endorse? For starters, political endorsements suggest a uniformity of opinion among members of a newspaper's staff. Given the independent-mindedness of our staff members, we would be foolish to suggest that any one candidate would be the unanimous choice of all our employees.
Second, we feel that there are real-life circumstances when the endorsement of individual candidates can hinder a newspaper's ability to do its primary job: covering the news. Way back in 1991, Dr. W.W. Herenton first won election as mayor by the slender margin of 141 votes out of over a quarter of a million cast. A recount seemed essential for this, the closest municipal election in American history. But the daily newspaper had endorsed the defeated incumbent early and often; any Commercial Appeal call for a recount may well have been perceived as sour grapes. There was no such call, and no recount, although later reporting by this newspaper indicated a host of voting irregularities that clearly had direct impact upon the final vote totals.
Here at the Flyer, we have broken with this no-endorsement tradition on only one occasion: In November 2004, we endorsed Senator John Kerry in his presidential campaign versus the incumbent, George W. Bush. At the time, the reason seemed obvious: "Four more years of George W. Bush is a potential disaster of such magnitude that we feel obliged to add our editorial voice to those of so many other newspapers around this country." Sadly, nothing has happened over the first two years of Bush's second term to cause us the slightest regret over expressing that opinion.
Our decision to "dis-endorse" President Bush had less to do with ideology than it did with incompetence. As recent events have made even more clear, the president is clearly out of his depth in the Oval Office, having blundered his way into civil war in Iraq, completely botched the Katrina recovery effort, and ignored the nuances of foreign policy so thoroughly that today the entire Middle East is a powder keg waiting to explode.
Let the Bush "experience," then, be a lesson to all Shelby County voters: Ideology may be important, but if the candidate you are considering has no proven track record of achievement, no history of managing his or her own life wisely, let alone any kind of experience managing others, proceed with caution. And as you cast your ballot, ask yourself this: Is the person I'm voting for the best-qualified candidate to do the job of this office? If you can answer that question in the affirmative, then you will have done yourself and Memphis proud.