There was never much chance that The Capital Times was going to endorse George W. Bush for a second term.
Bush got zero votes from our editorial board in 2000 - the members divided between Democrat Al Gore and Green Ralph Nader, with Gore easily prevailing because of the broad sense on the part of the board that Bush had to be stopped. And he was stopped. Gore won in Wisconsin that year, and he secured a 600,000 popular-vote victory nationwide. Even in the contested state of Florida, there was never any question that a clear plurality of voters cast their ballots with the intention of electing Gore - unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court intervened to prevent a full accounting of those sentiments.
So Bush started out on our bad side.
Then, of course, there was the matter of Bush's presidency itself. As a newspaper, we have not disagreed so frequently and so consistently with a president since Herbert Hoover - and The Capital Times had a far higher regard for Hoover's intellect than we have ever been able to muster for Bush. It wasn't just that Bush was wrong, it was that he was so obviously wrong. It was obvious that Bush's trade policies would lead to job losses - and they did. It was obvious that Bush's tax policies would expand the gap between rich and poor - and they did. It was obvious that Iraq would become a quagmire - and it did.
Nothing that went wrong with Bush's presidency came as a surprise to readers of this newspaper. In fact, it is fair to say that frequently over the past four years The Capital Times and its readers - like a lot of Americans - knew better than Bush himself that his policies could not succeed.
So, when it came time to make our endorsement this fall, there was not much doubt that The Capital Times would endorse Democrat John Kerry - just as there was never any real doubt that the Wisconsin State Journal, which echoes the White House spin more slavishly than many paid Republican operatives, would dutifully endorse George Bush. (It was a surprise that Madison's morning newspaper endorsed the congressional candidacy of Dave Magnum, whose inability to make a serious case for himself was highlighted by his relentlessly negative campaign against incumbent Tammy Baldwin.)
Some will suggest that the State Journal's endorsement of Bush was simply an expression of the newspaper's conservatism - in the same sense that The Capital Times' endorsement of Kerry was an expression of this newspaper's progressivism. But that notion misreads where sincere conservatives are headed this year.
A remarkable number of honest conservatives have rejected the Bush re-election campaign. As Scott McConnell, the executive editor of the American Conservative magazine, wrote last week, "George W. Bush has come to embody a politics that is antithetical to almost any kind of thoughtful conservatism. His international policies have been based on the hopelessly naive belief that foreign peoples are eager to be liberated by American enemies - a notion more grounded in Leon Trotsky's concept of global revolution than any sort of conservative statecraft."
More than three dozen daily newspapers that endorsed Bush in 2000 are this year backing John Kerry. At least 10 more conservative dailies that backed Bush in 2000 declined to make an endorsement this year.
Many of the most conservative newspapers in the country, including Florida's Tampa Tribune, have rejected Bush this year.
The most fascinating switch by a newspaper that backed Bush in 2000 and backs Kerry this year came in the region of the United States that refers to itself as "Bush Country." The Waco Tribune-Herald, the newspaper that circulates in Crawford, Texas, where the presidential ranch is located, backed Bush enthusiastically in 2000 - when he was running as a "compassionate conservative" who did not want the United States to be "the policeman of the world."
This year, the Tribune-Herald editors wrote, "President Bush consistently has put tax cuts above budget austerity or other domestic aims. The proof of that condition is a record $422 billion deficit, with a national debt of $7.4 trillion that is growing rapidly. 'America can do better,' says John Kerry. He is right."
This has been a long, strange political year. But there is something reassuring about the fact that, at the end of the day, honest progressives and honest conservatives have come to so many of the same conclusions regarding the presidential contest. It is not a matter of agreeing on issues, but rather of recognizing the truth of the political moment. As former Kentucky Sen. Marlow Cook, a conservative Republican, said when he endorsed Kerry, "For me, as a Republican, I feel that when my party gives me a dangerous leader who flouts the truth, takes the country into an undeclared war and then adds a war on terrorism to it without debate by the Congress, we have a duty to rid ourselves of those who are taking our country on a perilous ride in the wrong direction."John Nichols is associate editor for The Capital Times. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2004 Capital Times