Newspaper Endorsements: A Pointless Ritual

People line up for taxis across the street from the New York Times headquarters in 2013. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Elite newspapers’ quadrennial fealty to the Democratic Party has rendered their editorials ineffectual, unthoughtful, and uncritical in practice.

On Tuesday, the New York Times made it official: “Elect Joe Biden, America,” they say. Biden, its editorial board claims, “is offering an anxious, exhausted nation something beyond policy or ideology.” After four years of Donald Trump, the Times yearns for a president who will “restore confidence in democratic institutions,” show a “respect for science,” fill his cabinet with “competent, qualified, principled individuals,” and concentrate on “healing divisions.” But wait, there’s more! Biden “is more than simply a steady hand on the wheel.” He has “a bold agenda,” “a long and distinguished record of accomplishment,” and “an unusually rich grasp of and experience in foreign policy.” Only in cloudy passing does the Times make mention of Biden’s faults. It concedes that “not all of Mr. Biden’s foreign policy decisions through the decades look sage in hindsight” but declines to mention either his opposition to Desert Storm and the operation that rid the world of Osama Bin Laden, or his support for the second Iraq War. Robert Gates, George W. Bush’s last and Barack Obama’s first secretary of defense, put it more bluntly when he called Biden “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

The Washington Post was similarly both effusive and evasive in their own endorsement of Biden last Monday. To rid the country of Trump, they begin, “Many voters might be willing to vote for almost anybody.” Thankfully, they will not have to “lower their standards” to support Biden, who is “exceptionally well-qualified” and “deeply empathetic.” Moreover, he showed great wisdom in selecting “the woman who . . . almost everyone agreed was the most qualified” as his running mate and contrasts Biden’s “welcome, positive vision for the country” to Trump’s first term, which they deem bereft of accomplishments.

They read like campaign-website homepages, not the considered consensus of the best minds at the nation’s two most prestigious newspapers.

Part of the problem is that there was never any doubt as to which candidate would secure the Times and Post’s support. The former has not endorsed a Republican since Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956. The latter has never backed a GOP candidate for president. Their endorsement announcements come not as products of well-reasoned debate among an ideologically diverse group of thinkers, but as stagnant inevitabilities from an insular class of left-wing crusaders. Consequently, the endorsements are not dependent upon who the major party candidates are, what experience they bring to the table, or the policies they espouse. It’s a ritual, not a choice.

And the quality of their editorials on these matters suffer as a result. Honest appraisals of the Republican and Democratic visions are nowhere to be found, replaced by vapid wish-casting and villainizing. The Times asserts that Biden will re-instill the American people with confidence in our institutions, but he won’t even commit to opposing partisan court-packing efforts. He respects science, but supports on-demand abortion at any and every stage of development while demurring that there are “at least three” genders. He’ll purportedly entrust powerful positions in his administration to competent, qualified people, but he invited Kamala Harris — who aspires to become, as my colleague Cameron Hilditch put it, “queen of the post-constitutional remnants” of America — to join him on the Democratic ticket and promises to put perennial candidate Beto “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15” O’ Rourke in charge of his administration’s gun-confiscation efforts. They say he has an impressive record of accomplishment in the Senate, but the only accomplishment that merits a mention is the Violence Against Women Act — parts of which were thrown out as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. And that’s to say nothing of their aforementioned whitewashing of his abysmal foreign-policy record.

For its part, the Post parrots the Biden campaign’s talking points by deeming him “deeply empathetic” and rewrites history by calling Harris — who has not yet spent four full years in the Senate — the most qualified pick possible. In fact, it was made quite clear by Biden’s primary-season promise to pick a woman and Senator Amy Klobuchar’s pleas to pick one of color that Biden valued not qualifications but rather the “right” identity when choosing a vice president.

At the same time, they lazily dismiss the Trump administration as one without achievements to point to, ignoring the economic boom of the years preceding the coronavirus pandemic, a renegotiated NAFTA, the nomination of three eminently impressive jurists to the Supreme Court, and most recently, a series of historic negotiated normalizations of relations between Israel and Arab states. The Post no doubt takes issue with the characterization of these as feats. But instead of explaining its perspective on who deserved credit for the thriving economy of 2017, 2018, and 2019; or whether the USMCA really is preferable to NAFTA; or the merits of a predominantly originalist judiciary; or the significance of the recent peace deals, it pretends that they don’t exist. Or, even worse, deign the conservative position on these issues unworthy of being addressed.

That the Times and Post are endorsing Joe Biden should come as no surprise to anyone, and the endorsements are, in theory, no great crime or annoyance. These are liberal institutions inclined to support liberal candidates. But the ritualization of their quadrennial fealty to the Democratic Party have rendered their editorials ineffectual, unthoughtful, and uncritical in practice. Americans can’t help but feel that they are a people in decline. Some of that feeling can be attributed to the feckless agenda and unconfident rhetoric of the last president. Some of it can be attributed to the juvenile behavior and abject unfitness of the current one. But surely much of it can be ascribed to our supposedly great institutions’ descent into mediocrity in everything they do.

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