The case against primary endorsements

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I re-read the New York Times editorial endorsements this morning regarding the Republican and Democratic party presidential primaries.

The Times is backing Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton (no surprise there) and Republican John Kasich. The Clinton nod is full of kudos for the former U.S. senator from New York; the Kasich endorsement contains a lot of, well, he’s the best of a bad bunch.

The paper’s tandem endorsements brought to mind a policy I used to follow back in the day, before I got “reorganized” out of my 36-year print journalism career in the summer of 2012.

It was that we didn’t make endorsements — which we preferred to call “recommendations” — in contested two-party primaries.

Why not?

Well, for starters, I always was a bit uncomfortable recommending candidates running for a partisan position. We did it for many election cycles here in Amarillo and in Beaumont before that. Then it dawned on me that it was best left to each major party to manage the selection process. The media need not get involved in what essentially was a partisan effort.

We would make recommendations, of course, for those¬†single-party primary contests. In Amarillo, that usually meant the Republicans would have a contested primary, but there wouldn’t be any Democrats on the ballot for a particular office.

In those cases, the primary becomes tantamount to election. So, we’d state our case — knowing full well that whatever we said would mean diddly squat in the minds of most voters, whose minds were made up already.

I have no clue what my former paper here in Amarillo is going to do with this primary election. The Texas primary occurs on March 1 and it’s a good bet there’ll be plenty of Republicans still in the hunt for the GOP presidential nomination, not to mention at least two Democrats seeking their party’s nod for the presidency.

Nor will I offer an opinion of what the newspaper’s editorialist should do.

There no doubt will be push back from those who (a) demand the paper make endorsements in the primary, as it is their duty and (b) those who believe newspaper endorsements no longer are relevant in the current political climate.

Indeed, the Internet has taken away much of people’s reliance on what newspaper editorial boards think anyway.

Good luck, media moguls, as you ponder these things.

Trump keeps scoring well with evangelical voters

Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump, speaks during a rally coinciding with Pearl Harbor Day at Patriots Point aboard the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown in Mt. Pleasant, S.C., Monday, Dec. 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)

It might be the most intriguing question coming out of the Iowa caucuses.

How has Donald J. Trump continued to gain the support of Republicans who call themselves “evangelical Christians,” the most conservative members of a generally conservative bloc of Republican Party voters?

He’s done well with them despite the following:

Three marriages — and two divorces — and well-chronicled affairs with married women around the world.

Trump actually has boasted about carrying on with married women and all the while he has declared that he’s never asked God for forgiveness because, he said, “I don’t need it.”

Some of us out here have asked for forgiveness for a whole lot less than what Trump has acknowledged doing.

That doesn’t matter to those who use their deep faith to help guide their votes for public officials.

It’s wacky out there, man.

All of this just might portend an equally wacky result once the Iowa GOP caucus votes are tabulated at the end of the evening Monday.

Yep. I’ll be watching these results with keen interest.

 

Negativity dominates the GOP primary campaign

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The New York Times’ Sunday editorial endorsement in this year’s Republican Party primary campaign illustrates quite graphically the nature of this election cycle.

It took the Times six paragraphs to mention the candidate the paper prefers to win the Republican nomination this year.

That would be Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Kasich’s name got mentioned for the first time in the sixth paragraph after the Times spent the first five lengthy paragraphs trashing the frontrunners for the party’s nomination fight.

Donald Trump and Ted Cruz took broadside after (deserved) broadside from the Times editorial board.

When the paper’s editors got down to Kasich, they extolled his virtue as a proven government executive and a legislator with a record of accomplishment.

I happen to agree with the Times’ assessment of Kasich . . . and of Trump and Cruz. The Times did manage a few words of encouragement regarding Kasich, declaring: “Still, as a veteran of partisan fights and bipartisan deals during nearly two decades in the House, he has been capable of compromise and believes in the ability of government to improve lives.”

The Times didn’t mention it, but I have noted before that in my view, Kasich’s main selling point is his work with the Democrats in Congress and with the Democrat in the White House — President¬†Bill Clinton — to balance the federal budget in the late 1990s. It is fair to suggest that Gov. Kasich could bring that good will with him were he to become the next president of the United States.

But the nature of this entire Republican campaign has been one of extreme negativity. The leader of the naysaying chorus, of course, is Donald Trump himself.

And as the tone of the Times’ editorial suggests, he has succeeded in taking the media down that path right along with him.

 

Predicting the Iowa caucus result is fraught with risk

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David Brooks is a brave man.

Or perhaps he’s nuts.

The New York Times columnist said two things on Friday. One is that he has been “consistently wrong” about this year’s presidential campaign. The other is that Donald J. Trump is going to “underperform” at the Iowa caucuses which occur Monday.

I choose not to go there. The campaign to this date has been fraught with peril for those of us who believed — it’s silly, I know — that Trump would have imploded long ago. He hasn’t. Trump has ridden on the backs of voters who are sick of the “status quo,” and want “change, by God.”

Trump is promising it, without a clue as to whether he — as president — even has the power to bring the kind of change he’s promising.

My favorite Trump promise so far is that when he’s president, “department store employees are going to wish customers Merry Christmas.” Yeah, go figure that one out.

Brooks also believes Sen. Bernie Sanders is going to have a “turnout problem” in Iowa, meaning that the strong young-voter support he’s getting in those crowded auditoriums won’t manifest itself in the caucus rooms. Why? Young people don’t vote with the same fervor as their elders.

How, though, in the world does one predict an outcome in either party?

I give Brooks lots of credit for sticking his neck out once again.

I’m keeping my powder dry until after the last caucus polling station reports in.

 

 

A ‘cultural district’ for Amarillo? Fascinating

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As if Amarillo isn’t going through enough change with its evolving downtown landscape, now comes an interesting concept from Center City.

Let’s create a cultural district designed to promote the arts in this city. So says Center City director Beth Duke, who believes the city¬†is ripe for a grant that could be applied to promoting the arts.

It would run from Western Street to Grant Street. It would include several art venues, such as the Little Theater, the Globe-News performing arts center, Sunset Center Art Galleries and the Civic Center.

I’m still trying to wrap my noggin around the notion.

However, as with most new ideas, this one seems worth a close look.

According to NewsChannel 10: “We can promote it as a unified cultural district for tourism,” said Duke. “We can go out for special grants, and it may lead to some more events and some more partnerships.”

The city could be venturing into some fascinating new territory here.

Duke said the city will apply soon for the grant and will learn fairly quickly after that whether it will receive funds to apply to this concept.

The proverbial light bulb came on recently in my own head about the downtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone. TIRZ board chairman Scott Bentley explained it to me in simple enough language for even little ol’ me to understand it.

So it might have to be with the cultural district idea that Center City is pitching.

I’m willing to listen to it.

The payoff seems a bit distant as I consider how the creation of such a district would work.

Then again, isn’t that why God created marketing specialists to figure these things out?

 

 

C-SPAN worked miracles with this spot

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I want to share a moment regarding my one direct contact with the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network . . . aka C-SPAN.

I’ve already sung the praises of Brian Lamb, the founder of the one national network that covers politics and policy without a hint of bias.

Take another look.

But the folks who put together their video presentations are masters of editing, cutting, pasting and making subjects look a whole lot smarter than they really are. In my case, that’s not all that difficult.

I arrived in the Texas Panhandle in January 1995 to take my post as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News.

That spring, C-SPAN embarked on a project called the “School Bus Tour.” It was sending a yellow bus to every congressional district in the United States. All 435 of them would get a visit from the C-SPAN school bus. Its intent was to educate viewers on the members of Congress representing their constituents living in each of those districts.

The 1991 Texas Legislature had gerrymandered the congressional map in Texas to give Amarillo two House members. The 13th Congressional District comprised the northern portion of the city; the 19th District comprised the southern portion.

The lines were drawn that way to protect the Democrat — Bill Sarpalius — who represented the 13th District. Democrats controlled the Legislature back then, so they sought to rig the lineup to protect their own. The tactic worked until the 1994 election, when Republican Mac Thornberry upset Sarpalius.

But the 19th District remained strongly Republican and was represented by U.S. Rep. Larry Combest of Lubbock.

C-SPAN called one day and wanted to know if I would be willing to be interviewed by the network about the 19th District. I was to talk about Combest and the district he had represented for the past decade.

Holy crap! I thought. I didn’t know much about the district, or about Combest. I was brand new here. I’d lived for the 11 previous years in the Golden Triangle region of Texas, which was represented in the House by Democrats Jack Brooks of Beaumont and Charlie Wilson of Lufkin.

I accepted the offer, then cracked the books to learn more about the 19th Congressional District and about Rep. Combest.

C-SPAN’s school bus crew met me at the newspaper office one Saturday morning and I talked for about 30 minutes or so with a camera rolling. I stuttered, stammered, paused, stopped-and-started my way through it. Hey, I’m not a TV guy.

I was frightened by the prospect of how it would look on TV. The producer assured me, “Don’t worry. You did just fine. We’ll take good care of you.”

Well, they shot their B-roll video, showing scenes of feed lots, ranch land, wind mills and such from around the sprawling district, which stretched from Amarillo all the way to Lubbock, about 120 miles south of us.

They told me when the segment would air.

I waited for it. Sure enough, they managed to make me sound a whole lot more polished than I really am.

What’s more — and this is the real beauty of this kind of skill — they preserved the essence of every comment I made. There was not a single phrase that was aired¬†during the three-minute segment that was out of context or didn’t convey my intended message.

I would have a similar experience later, during the 2008 presidential campaign, with National Public Radio. NPR wanted to interview two journalists about the state of that campaign between Barack Obama and John McCain. I learned once again about the talent and skill it takes to edit someone’s spoken words while preserving the integrity of what one says.

Believe me, it’s a remarkable skill, indeed.

 

Take a bow, Brian Lamb

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Brian Lamb is a genius.

He might the smartest journalist in America. Why do I say that? He founded a network that has managed — through all the revolutions and incarnations of other media outlets — to keep¬†the organization he founded free of the partisanship that has poisoned the dissemination of news.

Lamb founded C-SPAN — which is an acronym for Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network.

C-SPAN tweeted out a message with some testimonials from those who appreciate the contribution it makes to informing the public about politics and policy.

Count me as a huge fan.

Has anyone ever guessed the political leanings of Lamb and the team of reporters and talking heads he employs at the network?

Lamb has made it his policy to ensure that such questions never come up. When you listen to his interviews with public officials, you never know where he leans. Left or right? Doesn’t matter. It’s hidden.

Unlike the other cable networks — whether it’s Fox on the right or MSNBC on the left — viewers get a taste of the bias that spews from the commentators/pundits/talking heads.

They have bored me for years.

Lamb invented pure-bred public affairs programming when he launched C-SPAN in the early 1980s. He persuaded Congress to let his network televise the floor speeches from senators and House members and immediately the public learned a dirty little secret about both legislative chambers: Members quite often pontificate before an empty room. We didn’t need the C-SPAN staffers to tell us; they just broadcast it, without comment.

So it has been with C-SPAN. Brian Lamb’s creation has enlightened us simply by allowing us to look inside these institutions, hear our elected representatives speak for themselves and then giving us a chance to decide whether they’re full of wisdom . . .¬† or something that stinks to high heaven.

 

 

 

Iowa uncertainty brings new dimension of weirdness to race

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It’s been said repeatedly for many election cycles that evangelical voters are key to the success of candidates seeking to win the Iowa presidential caucuses.

Republican candidates play to the evangelical voter bloc, realizing the critical role that devout Christians play in the Iowa political process.

The 2016 caucuses are almost here and, as has been the norm this time, some political traditions have been turned upside-down.

Cruz in trouble in Iowa

Consider this: The one-time favorite of Iowa Republicans, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, is now essentially tied in that state by none other than Donald J. Trump.

Cruz is supposed to be the golden boy for evangelical voters. He’s their guy. He’s the self-proclaimed “dependable conservative.” But now his support has eroded as Trump has gained ground and as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has risen as well to compete with Cruz for the evangelical vote.

What’s staggering to me, though, is why Trump is faring so well among those deeply devout voters. Trump has demonstrated repeatedly that his expressions of faith sound, well, less than authentic. The “Two Corinthians” gaffe is a small, but still significant, demonstration of what I mean.

Trump talks about the Bible the way one talks about a Louis L’Amour western novel. “It’s a great book,” he says.

Well, I don’t know how this initial contest is going to finish on Monday. It’s only one vote, after all, in a long series of contests that candidates in both major parties will have to face as they fight among themselves for their parties’ presidential nomination.

But the idea that the vaunted evangelical vote is up for grabs with a candidate such as Donald Trump competing for it just boggles my mind.

I’m going to stay tuned for this one to play out.

 

‘Failed presidency’? Hardly

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Ed Rogers’s bias is crystal clear.

The Republican operative, writing in the Washington Post, calls Barack Obama a “failed president.” The president’s alleged “failures,” Rogers asserted, has led to the rise of Donald J. Trump and the crippling of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Read the essay here.

I am acutely aware that there are those who side with Rogers’s assessment of Barack Obama’s two terms in the White House. I also am aware that others disagree with him, who believe that the president’s tenure has been anything but a failure.

I happen to one of the latter.

I’m enjoying, however, listening to the field of Republican presidential candidates harp on the same thing. They decry American “weakness.” They blame the president for it. They say we’re weak militarily, economically, diplomatically, morally . . . have I left anything out?

I shake my head in wonderment at those assertions. Then I realize that they’re all politicians — yes, even Donald J. Trump, Carly Fiorina¬†and Ben Carson — seeking to score points.

That’s what politicians do, even those who say they aren’t politicians.

Democrats do it as well as Republicans.

However, I am going to let history be the judge about whether this presidency has failed.

So far, I’d say “no.”

The economy is stronger than it was when Barack Obama took office; we’ve continued to wage war against terrorists; our military remains the most powerful in the world; we’ve scored diplomatic victories, such as¬†securing a deal that prevents Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons — irrespective of what the critics allege; we’ve kept our adversaries in check; we’ve avoided a second major terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

Has this been¬†a perfect seven years? No. Has any presidency skated to completion with a perfect score? Again, no. Not Ronald Reagan, FDR or Ike. All the great men who’ve held the office have endured missteps and tragedy.

However, this “failed presidency” talk comes in the heat of a most unconventional election year.

I will continue to keep that in mind as the rhetoric gets even hotter as the year progresses.

 

It’s just about the ‘worst case’ regarding those e-mails

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The worst case hasn’t yet arrived with regard to the Hillary Clinton e-mail controversy.

However, it’s a lot closer than the presumed Democratic Party presidential frontrunner would like.

I won’t yet call this matter a “scandal.” It would elevate to that level if we found out that the classified e-mails that went out on the former secretary of state’s personal server got into the wrong hands.

The Obama administration today revealed that 22 e-mail messages that went through Clinton’s server have been labeled “top secret.” Clinton had said she didn’t knowingly send out sensitive material on the server.

The administration now says it won’t release the e-mails to the public because — that’s right — they are top secret!

We won’t be allowed to see what’s in them, which is just fine by me.

Most troubling, though, is that the e-mail messages very well could have gotten into the hands of those seeking to do serious harm to this nation.

We’ll need to know the truth about how those messages traveled through cyberspace containing the highly sensitive national security information.

Of course, the political ramifications of this revelation ramp up the stakes for Monday’s Iowa caucuses, where Clinton is locked in a tight battle with Sen. Bernie Sanders; former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is running a distant third, but suddenly he emerges as a potential spoiler.

Clinton is beginning to suffer from some trust issues with voters. The administration’s acknowledgment that the e-mails carried top secret information into potentially unsecured locations out there into the Internet universe could do serious harm to a candidacy once seen as unstoppable.