At Large: You’ll be delighted to know

Next week, we’ll publish The Times election supplement. It shows up in advance of annual town meetings and national and state elections. It includes a sample ballot and recommendations and endorsements, which I write.

It’s part of a newspaper’s job, in my view, to tell the community where its editor stands on election contests and ballot questions and every other important issue that faces voters and taxpayers. A few journalist-shirkers have their sniveling reasons for avoiding the practice. Or they publish endorsements in selected contests only, thus limiting their exposure.

Or they editorialize sententiously on the importance of voting. You know how it goes. Harumph. This election is a very important matter. Now, we’re not going to tell you what we think, but do, please, go out and vote.

And voting is important, of course. But most newspaper editors think telling readers where they stand on each and every contested question, large and small, throughout the year and not just before elections, is important too.

The election supplement is an attempt to wrap the endorsements in a convenient, useful, and painless package. It’s like giving the kid some medicine and then a cookie to wash it down. You know he doesn’t want it, so you have to sweeten the deal.

What the editor hopes, in his most rapturously self-inflated moments, is that each and every reader will carry the supplement into the voting booth and do exactly what the editorial says on each and every candidate and question. That never happens, no matter how much better off the world would be if it did.

Indeed, what can a poor editorialist cling to, if not the hope that readers pay strict attention to his adjurations? Were he to acknowledge the indifference or, pardon me, the blockheadedness of some significant plurality among his readership, he’d have to get into some other game altogether. For the editorialist, life is a poor concoction of faith, optimism, and self-delusion.

It can be a wasting disease of hope. Once, leaving the voting place and seeing a woman I knew with the supplement in her hand, I looked at her eagerly. She saw me looking and knew what I longed for. She said, without a flicker of solicitude, Don’t get your hopes up. And of course, I said, you’re quite right, quite right.

This endorsement/recommendation thing can be ticklish. You don’t want to overpress your case.

I remember a phone call from an up-Islander who wanted to know why on earth I had endorsed so and so. Well, there were several reasons, but I had to consider which one would perform best in response to this friend’s question. I picked one. He said that hadn’t occurred to him.

Still later, a workingman walked into The Times building. He wanted to see the editor. He sat down in the rocking chair in my office. (By the way, that rocking chair can be mercifully soothing to visitors who are out of sorts about something we’ve published.)

This fellow, whom I did not know, said he was a faithful reader, didn’t always like what he read, and he had two questions. They weren’t hard questions, because sometimes, admittedly, choices and recommendations are not objectively conclusive, but subjective. And, who knows if so-and-so will do the job the way we hope she will. I told him how the thinking went. He nodded but kept his own counsel about how he would mark his ballot.

And after all, it didn’t matter what he decided, and I was certainly not entitled to know. What mattered, apart from the baseline fact of voting at all, was that he considered the arguments the editorialist made and was straightforward enough to march right into the editor’s office to discuss them. I think that’s the way newspapers and their communities should work together. We express ourselves, you march right into our office and explain how we’re right or wrong.