A Very Low Register

There’s lots and lots of gabbing today over the Des Moines Register‘s endorsement of Mitt Romney. It’s the paper’s first Republican presidential endorsement since Nixon (fitting), though it’s worth remembering that this is not the same independent locally-owned paper it used to be since it was sold to the Gannett chain in 1985. And while the Register is probably more influential than most daily newspapers outside the big national newspapers-of-record, its circulation has been steadily declining like all other print media, and in the kind of election we are in, with the kind of electorate Iowa has, I would not confidently predict the endorsement will matter at all.

But what I really want to say is this: Lord-a-mercy, what a thoroughly dumb, phoned-in endorsement statement! And this from a paper that is forever congratulating itself for its wonky thoughtfulness! Not today!

You can read it all, but aside from a hum-ho account of Obama’s lack of a second-term agenda (with zero suggestions of what that might be other than protecting his first-term accomplishments and the entire economy from demolition), the Register’s “positive” case for Romney seems to be that he was relentlessly lying throughout the primary season, and harbors some “fresh thinking” on the economy that is never identified. Check this out:

One of the biggest obstacles either candidate faces is partisan gridlock in Congress. It appears unlikely either party will have enough votes to have its own way without bringing over members from across the aisle….

Romney could be assured that Democrats would work to defeat him as hard as Republicans worked against Obama is if he were to adopt the reactionary agenda of the most extreme elements of the Republican Party. Romney had to tack to the right during the primary season. Since then, he has recalibrated his campaign to focus on his concern for the middle class, and that is believable if the real Mitt Romney is the one on display as governor of Massachusetts who passed a health care reform plan that became the model for the one passed by Congress.

Romney should not squander an opportunity to build consensus in Washington by wasting time on issues that animate many in his party. We cannot rewind the clock on progress for minorities, women, gays and lesbians. We must make it easier for immigrants to come here to live and work legally and stop making criminals of those who are living here lawfully, paying taxes and raising families. The federal government must continue to insist on clean air and water and encourage clean and renewable energy.

So the Register endorsed Romney by assuming that he will repudiate virtually everything he’s said since 2007, other than the vague promises of bipartisanship he started making a few weeks ago. (And by the way, in assuming Romney will have to be “bipartisan,” the paper’s brain trust seems to betray complete ignorance of the budget reconciliation procedure that will enable Republicans to enact the most sweeping package of legislation since at least Ronald Reagan on a strict party-line vote if the GOP gets control of the Senate, which remains entirely possible).

But the Register‘s bizarre confidence in Romney’s “bipartisanship” is more than rivaled by its appreciation of Mitt’s “fresh thinking” on the economy:

Throughout the campaign, he has expressed faith in the private sector to fuel a more robust economic recovery if it has more confidence that the federal government will not be an obstacle. Romney has a strategy for job growth through tax and regulatory relief for small businesses, encouraging all forms of domestic energy production, education that prepares graduates with job skills, expanding foreign trade and reducing the burden of federal deficits.

That formula, coupled with his business acumen, should unlock this nation’s economic potential.

“That formula,” of course, is about as “fresh” as Todd Akin’s thinking about rape. It’s a more right-wing version of the same “formula” of all those GOP candidates the Register declined to endorse over the decades.

There is an internally consistent and coherent case to be made for Romney’s election, even though I would disagree with it profoundly. There’s no hint of it in the Register‘s endorsement, which makes the most detached low-information voter seem exceptionally well-versed on the choice facing voters. This editorial board has reached an unbelievably low register on any scale for intelligence and honesty, much less wonkiness. It should embarrass actual conservatives.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.