Opinion: The New York Times presidential endorsement entrenches both-sides-ism

Examining competing sides of an argument is commendable; refusing to pick one is not.

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Opinion: The New York Times presidential endorsement entrenches both-sides-ism

Headquarters of The New York Times on May 7, 2018 in New York City, N.Y.

Headquarters of The New York Times on May 7, 2018 in New York City, N.Y.

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Headquarters of The New York Times on May 7, 2018 in New York City, N.Y.

TNS

TNS

Headquarters of The New York Times on May 7, 2018 in New York City, N.Y.

Elijah Helton, Opinions Editor

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The New York Times Editorial Board announced Sunday endorsement for the Democratic presidential nomination: nobody.

It didn’t actually do that; it endorsed Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota simultaneously. But by picking both a progressive and a moderate, the Times board undermined the purpose of an endorsement and rendered it meaningless. This rigid commitment to both-sides-ism is a poison in our politics of which the news media has been an ineffective antidote.

Both-sides-ism isn’t just a problem at the Times, but its endorsement of Warren and Klobuchar shows how the over-commitment to neutrality is unhelpful at best and harmful at worst.

To the board’s credit, its endorsement is quick to dismiss President Trump’s vision of “white nativism at home and America First unilateralism abroad.” It posits that there are three sides: the visions of Warren and Klobuchar, as well as Trump’s Republican Party. But then it equates the two substantially different ideas from Democrats as equal in value to each other.

Throwing up your hands in indecision isn’t a real argument.”

Perhaps that argument makes more sense after both parties’ nominations are in place. In the (very) unlikely event Klobuchar is the Democratic nominee, the choice will be exceedingly clear who should be our country’s leader. But the Minnesota senator is polling in seventh place nationally and a distant fifth here in Iowa; she has roughly the same chance at winning as Hillary Clinton.

Another point the endorsement argues is that both the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic Party “warrant serious consideration.” That’s a nice, fair-and-balanced sentiment, but it doesn’t make sense for an endorsement in a race where there can only be one winner. 

If the board wanted to say “take an earnest look at everyone’s argument,” it could have said so in a separate editorial. Its well-recorded process of interviewing candidates, marketed as “The Choice,” was supposed to be that earnest look at everyone’s argument — but it didn’t draw the titular conclusion.

Open-mindedness and transparent debate are great. I wouldn’t be the opinions editor of this newspaper if I didn’t believe in them. But throwing up your hands in indecision isn’t a real argument.

Is time for the big, structural change Warren champions? Or should we stick to the safe incrementalism prescribed by more moderate voices? The Times board has failed to come up with an answer.”

As much as I detest the politics of President Reagan, he was right when he said an election is “a time for choosing.” (He said that while endorsing Barry Goldwater’s platform of white nativism at home and America First unilateralism abroad.) The Times failed in that regard.

The endorsement notes that the board has historically chosen “the candidate with a more traditional approach to pushing the nation forward.” That sounds like Klobuchar, but then it turns around and argues “if there were ever a time to be open to new ideas, it is now.”

Is time for the big, structural change Warren champions? Or should we stick to the safe incrementalism prescribed by more moderate voices? The Times board has failed to come up with an answer. What’s the purpose of opinion journalism if not to facilitate public discourse by providing platforms and analysis?

Maybe the Times wanted a middle ground between the opposing Democratic camps. Maybe the board was rooting for Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey before they both dropped out. But no such candidate embodies that space in the remaining nomination field. So, it’s time for a choice.

Whatever its intentions, the board’s both-sides-ism prohibited an actionable opinion. Caucusgoers can’t stand in the Warren and Klobuchar corners of the room, and neither should the Times. Sometimes, The Gray Lady needs to be black and white.

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