To and fro
The Times's election coverage, which will appear over the next three weeks, will include a sample ballot, some candidate interviews, and the newspaper's recommendations and endorsements, which I will write.
It's part of my job to write them. It's part of a newspaper's job to tell the community where it stands on election contests and ballot questions and every other important issue that faces voters and taxpayers. That is, most newspaper people think it is part of the job, although they are keenly aware that many of their readers don't share the view.
A few shirkers have their sniveling reasons for avoiding the practice. Or, they publish endorsements in selected contests, thus limiting their exposure. Or they editorialize sententiously on the importance of voting, but don't name names.
This election is a very important matter, they write sniffingly, inflating themselves with every word. Now, we're not going to tell you what we think, but do please go out and vote. It is your democratic duty.
Well, voting is important, of course. But, there's another point of view that has some subversive appeal. Remember the lady who was passing the polling place when a TV newsman shoved a mike in her face and asked who she had voted for, and she said, Sonny, I never vote, it only encourages them.
Think about it.
But most newspaper editors believe that telling readers where they stand on each and every contested question is necessary or the nation may crumble. And they cherish this belief despite the considerable body of statistical evidence that voters don't give a hoot about who or what editors or newspapers endorse. (This is one of those occasions when newspaper editors, in search of a justification for doing what they want to do, reveal their willingness to set aside the objective facts in pursuit of what they regard as one of journalism's higher purposes.)
The election coverage attempts to wrap the paper's endorsements in a convenient and, one hopes, impressive package. It's like giving the kid a mouthful of Robitussin and letting him wash it down with a Coke. You know he doesn't want it, so you have to sweeten the deal.
What the editor hopes, in his most rapturously self-important 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 and self-delusion.
Anyway, when I see (and I see this often) our coverage in the hands of a voter about to do his or her duty, my eager panting gives me away. Once, a voter noticed the heavy breathing and said, essentially, Don't get your hopes up, buster. I'm going to use this thing you published, but I'm not voting for Romney. And of course, I said, you're quite right, quite right. It's entirely up to you.
Sometimes, voters march into The Times office, after the endorsements are published but before the election. There's a rocking chair available for such visitors. I invite the visitor to sit in it, just in case a little soothing, gliding motion will evoke a spirit of serenity, should that be absent. The visitor wants to know why (in hell) I chose up sides the way I did. I tell how the thinking went. The visitor nods but keeps his own counsel.
And after all, it doesn't matter what he decides. What matters is that he considered the arguments the editorialist made and was straightforward enough to launch himself right into the editor's office to discuss them. Agree or not, it's the way newspapers and their communities are supposed to work together.