Chicago Tribune endorses its first Democrat for president

You could have hit me with a feather and knocked me over. The Chicago Tribune has endorsed Democrat Sen Barack Obama (D-Illinois), for the presidency, breaking a 161-year tradition.

Next, Christopher Buckley, author and commentator for the conservative National Review — the magazine his father founded, will be endorsing Obama.

Oh, wait, he did that already. Nevermind.

In both cases, paragons of conservative Republican values broke ranks and defected — if only temporarily — to the “other side.” The Trib’s editorial board and Buckley join the ranks of several other notable conservative voices who have abandoned the sinking ship of Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

The Trib, in its endorsement, praised Obama for his intellectual rigor, calm, measured demeanor, and ability to mend fences and build coalitions. It said he would make a fine president.

As for McCain, the paper pulled no punches in criticizing him and especially his campaign. Recalling the reasons why the Trib has always endorsed either the conservative candidate or the reformist candidate, it says,

The Tribune’s decisions then were driven by outrage at inept and corrupt business and political leaders.

We see parallels today.

The Republican Party, the party of limited government, has lost its way. The government ran a $237 billion surplus in 2000, the year before Bush took office — and recorded a $455 billion deficit in 2008. The Republicans lost control of the U.S. House and Senate in 2006 because, as we said at the time, they gave the nation rampant spending and Capitol Hill corruption. They abandoned their principles. They paid the price.

We might have counted on John McCain to correct his party’s course. We like McCain. We endorsed him in the Republican primary in Illinois. In part because of his persuasion and resolve, the U.S. stands to win an unconditional victory in Iraq.

It is, though, hard to figure John McCain these days. He argued that President Bush’s tax cuts were fiscally irresponsible, but he now supports them. He promises a balanced budget by the end of his first term, but his tax cut plan would add an estimated $4.2 trillion in debt over 10 years. He has responded to the economic crisis with an angry, populist message and a misguided, $300 billion proposal to buy up bad mortgages.

McCain failed in his most important executive decision. Give him credit for choosing a female running mate–but he passed up any number of supremely qualified Republican women who could have served. Having called Obama not ready to lead, McCain chose Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. His campaign has tried to stage-manage Palin’s exposure to the public. But it’s clear she is not prepared to step in at a moment’s notice and serve as president. McCain put his campaign before his country.

Ouch.

Buckley, who until his endorsement of Obama was writing for his father’s publication, also praises Obama’s intellect and demeanor, while suggesting some of Obama’s rhetoric is “airy-fairy.” (I have the same opinion. It was one of the reasons I preferred Clinton over Obama, but that’s irrelevant now.)

Buckley says he once admired McCain as a true conservative, one who was not beholden to a misguided Republican platform, and as an “authentic” human being.

But that was—sigh—then. John McCain has changed. He said, famously, apropos the Republican debacle post-1994, “We came to Washington to change it, and Washington changed us.” This campaign has changed John McCain. It has made him inauthentic. A once-first class temperament has become irascible and snarly; his positions change, and lack coherence; he makes unrealistic promises, such as balancing the federal budget “by the end of my first term.” Who, really, believes that? Then there was the self-dramatizing and feckless suspension of his campaign over the financial crisis. His ninth-inning attack ads are mean-spirited and pointless. And finally, not to belabor it, there was the Palin nomination. What on earth can he have been thinking?

All this is genuinely saddening, and for the country is perhaps even tragic, for America ought, really, to be governed by men like John McCain—who have spent their entire lives in its service, even willing to give the last full measure of their devotion to it. If he goes out losing ugly, it will be beyond tragic, graffiti on a marble bust.

Of all the Republicans running for the nomination, McCain was the one I wanted. He seemed like the only halfway reasonable guy in the bunch. I liked him because the guys in charge of the GOP didn’t. He was the last candidate the GOP machine wanted as the nominee — that “maverick” thing, y’know, also.

Buckley’s right. McCain has sold his soul to the GOP to garner its reluctant support. He’s veered course and become just another political hack, trying to tear down his opponent by spreading scurrilous rumors about Obama’s links to terrorists and Islamic jihadists.

It looks like the best man will win on Nov. 4.

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