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Sunday, June 20, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
James Vesely / Times editorial page editor
There can be no doubt that the rancor of politics has seized the campaign of 2004.
Everyone talks about the meat-ax of political campaigning instead of the ideas. Among the 35,000 letters to the editor The Seattle Times receives each year, the tone and attacks have become more shrill as the campaigns unfold.
Liberals and conservatives are guilty. In fact, it is the extremists who are defining the election process, unaccepting of other views, intolerant of differences of opinion.
As syndicated columnist John Leo wrote on these pages last week, author Christopher Lasch noted this about civil political arguments: "[W]e come to understand what we know and what we still need to learn... we come to know our own minds only by explaining ourselves to others."
Explaining yourself to others is a good yardstick to take the measure of your politics and ask if they are persuasive arguments or just the blunt instruments of frustration. "Socialist thinkers," wrote a Kirkland reader to us last week. "You have plenty of right-wing ideologues to suit your purposes," wrote another.
I have tried over the years to see if ideology is also geography. Readers on the Eastside and east of the mountains generalize that The Times is automatically left-wing. In West Seattle, and in the deepest thinking of Seattle political factions, The Times is off-the-shelf right-wing, corporate journalism. To Libertarians, true Socialists and Greens, The Times is captive of the two-party system.
Last week, our renewed call for an open primary for Washington voters drew rebuttals and critiques from Libertarians, but in that case, we opposed the domination of the two major parties who want to control voting patterns.
Take your pick, whether The Times is socialist or right-wing what does the record show our voice has been in making or unmaking presidents?
In response to a query from the American Journalism Review, I asked for a review of Seattle Times endorsements for president going back to 1976. Times librarian Sandy Freeman produced a list of endorsements that is fairly close to where the state has been in 28 years of presidential politics:
1976 Gerald Ford over Jimmy Carter.
1980 Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter.
1984 Reagan over Walter Mondale.
1988 Michael Dukakis over George H.W. Bush.
1992 Bill Clinton over George H.W. Bush.
1996 Bill Clinton over Bob Dole.
2000 George W. Bush over Al Gore.
Midway through the second Clinton term, this opinion page called for Clinton to resign his presidency. And last month, this page called for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Resignation from high office has become the de facto acceptance of misdeeds in American society. That was true when Secretary of Defense Les Aspin resigned from the Clinton White House following the debacle in Somalia, when American soldiers were heroic but alone.
Not many who are asked to resign take our advice, but it becomes a signature moment when the editorial page staff can no longer accept policy or personal reasons to keep someone in authority.
Sometimes, candidates leave the stage before we get to know them. In 2000, The Times was enamored of presidential candidate Bill Bradley and would have endorsed him in the general had he lasted through the primaries. His candor and attitudes about race relations had, for us, the distinction of being an attribute we see too rarely.
In the state presidential caucuses earlier this year, The Times endorsed Sen. Joe Lieberman as our leading Democrat. Lieberman, a centrist by any definition, arrived when centrist politics are not very helpful in running for president.
Following any newspaper expression of opinion, each reader comes packing his or her own ideology. Our letter writers insist we are far-right or loony-left, but if we look at the history and the candidates we have favored or not favored, we are not a movable weather vane but firmly in the center in the storm.
James F. Vesely's column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
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