What got me thinking about this question recently is several cases where a newspaper endorsement was touted by other Democrats, even as that same newspaper endorsed a Republican (e.g., John Vihstadt for Arlington County Board) for another office, dissed other Democrats (e.g., John Foust), etc. Same thing with the “fact checkers,” which are touted by Democratic candidates – in TV ads, mailers, etc. – when they go their way, but obviously not looked kindly upon when they bestow “Pinocchios” or “false” ratings on them. The question is, when Democrats tout newspaper endorsements or “fact checks” that go their way, are they helping themselves in the short-term at the expense of: a) their fellow Democrats in the short-term; b) themselves in the long-term; and/or c) their party in the long-term? Also, does this phenomenon fall into either the “Prisoner’s Dilemma” or “Tragedy of the Commons” paradigm? Here’s a synopsis of conversations I had with a national Democratic political operative and two Democratic committee chairs last night on this subject.
- My question: “Doesn’t touting the endorsement increase its value, lend it credibility, etc., so then, when they endorse a Republican in the same or future election cycles, it’s hard to argue they’re idiots or whatever, because you just touted what an honor/privilege/etc. it was when they endorsed YOU? Is this similar to the ‘tragedy of the commons’ (‘individuals, acting independently and rationally according to each one’s self-interest, behave contrary to the whole group’s long-term best interests by depleting some common resource.’)?”
- Response from Dem committee chair #1: “It’s very much that.”
- Response from national Dem politico: “I don’t really sweat newspapers when it comes to that, in part because they just don’t have the influence they used to…We may be jaundiced because we’re in the backyard of the Washington Post, whose ed board long since lost the benefit of the doubt.” (I noted that Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt prints climate science deniers, torture enthusiasts, etc., to which the national Dem politico responded, “**** that guy!”).
- Response by Dem committee chair #2 to my comment that the guy who makes the Post’s Virginia endorsements, Lee Hockstader, is “so horrible” — “Yes he is.” The biggest problem (among many other problems) with Hockstader, in my view: “He never attends any debates or comes to any events or interview the candidates most of the time or….anything, so why is he qualified to make endorsements?”
- Comment from national Dem politico: “I don’t give the WaPo any benefit of the doubt. Fred Hiatt and all his minions can eat a bag of [redacted]…but I’d still rate the influence of the so-called fact checkers as far more poisonous.”
- But here’s the conundrum, according to the national Dem politico: “political tacticians go for what works, or what they perceive to work.”
- My response: “What I’m saying is that by acting in their own, narrow self interest, they do long-term damage while (they hope) furthering their narrow, short-term self interest. For instance, when the idiot Post endorses Republican John Vihstadt for Arlington County Board, it’s hard to blast them because another Dem is busy touting their endorsement by the same paper (actually, Lee Hockstader) — e.g., Gerry Connolly, Don Beyer — touting what a great honor it is, etc.”
- Response by national Dem politico: “Sure – but it’s a collective action problem (you’re familiar w/ the prisoner’s dilemma, I take it)…and a tough one to solve in the heat of a campaign…And someone will always break ranks, because the American party system is organized as a loose network, not in top-down fashion.”
- My response: “Right, but my point is, it’s doing long-term damage, because it puffs up these newspapers, gives them legitimacy which they most certainly do NOT deserve. For instance, the fact that the Post endorsement supposedly ‘worked for Creigh Deecds’ (whether it really did or not) puffs up Lee Hockstader/the Post’s importance, which hurts us when they endorse Republicans Frank Wolf, Tom Davis, John Vihstadt, whoever and/or say bad things about Democrats (e.g., John Foust).”
- As for the “fact checkers,” my national Dem politico friend said, “I have no patience for bad actors – people who draw false equivalences in order to posture as somehow ‘above it all’…So Politifact, for instance, can suck my [redacted].”
Another recent example of what we’re talking about is the Denver Post’s endorsement of right wingnut U.S. Senate candidate Cory Gardner over Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Udall. The problem is, Democrats touted this paper’s endorsements of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, as well as of Mark Udall in 2008. To me, that may have helped specific Democratic candidates (including Mark Udall) in the short term, but in the long term, it only makes the Denver Post’s bat****-crazy endorsement of Gardner (over the same Udall they endorsed in 2008) more credible this year, hurting Udall’s chances of reelection this time around. See what I’m saying?
Finally, how about when Democrats actually tout endorsements from right-wing newspapers (or organizations) which deny (or express “skepticism” about) climate science, endorse right-wing candidates (e.g., George Allen in 2006, Bob McDonnell in 2009), etc? Again, isn’t that just lending these newspapers/organizations legitimacy, treating them as if their opinion is something we should care about (when it clearly isn’t, based on their many past idiocies)? Unfortunately, I fear that this behavior – Democrats touting endorsements from newspaper editorial boards (or, in many cases, single individuals) who are most certainly not our friends, or positive ratings from flawed “fact checkers” (which soon enough will come back to bite us in the butt) – will continue, as campaigns look for any short-term advantage they can get, even if it does long-term damage to themselves, their fellow Democrats, or the party as a whole. Sigh…