A Voting Guide to the 2012 Election

A Voting Guide to the 2012 Election

As Chicago voters head to the polls for early voting this week they are largely more informed than any other generation of voters in our city's history. While the Chicago Tribune will continue to endorse candidates this election cycle (Tribune election guide and endorsements here), the Chicago Sun-Times announced earlier this year it would no longer be making election endorsements in political races because they found them to be essentially irrelevant in today's media rich environment (read the editorial announcement here). The 2012 election marks the first time since the Sun-Times was founded 71 years ago that the city's second largest paper will not be making endorsements. The typically Democratic leaning paper has long served as a counter-weight to the Chicago Tribune's rightward leaning Editorial Board. In fact, the Sun-Times was partially founded by Marshall Fields III in reaction to the perceived right wing bias of the Chicago Tribune. Instead the Sun-Times has asked those running to fill out candidate questionnaires so its readers can better grasp where candidates stand on the issues most important to residents of the city (Sun-Times questionnaires can be found here).

Despite the fact Chicago has been a long time bastion of Democratic politics, the Tribune's 2008 endorsement of Barack Obama  marked the first time since the paper was founded in 1847 that it had endorsed a Democratic candidate for President. It was a true watershed moment for the paper and its endorsement offered a hope for the type of post-partisan, post-racial political climate that America needed to pull itself out of the gutter. The 2008 editorial is below.

2008 Tribune Editorial: Barack Obama for president
However this election turns out, it will dramatically advance America's slow progress toward equality and inclusion. It took Abraham Lincoln's extraordinary courage in the Civil War to get us here. It took an epic battle to secure women the right to vote. It took the perseverance of the civil rights movement. Now we have an election in which we will choose the first African-American president . . . or the first female vice president.

In recent weeks it has been easy to lose sight of this history in the making. Americans are focused on the greatest threat to the world economic system in 80 years. They feel a personal vulnerability the likes of which they haven't experienced since Sept. 11, 2001. It's a different kind of vulnerability. Unlike Sept. 11, the economic threat hasn't forged a common bond in this nation. It has fed anger, fear and mistrust.

On Nov. 4 we're going to elect a president to lead us through a perilous time and restore in us a common sense of national purpose.

The strongest candidate to do that is Sen. Barack Obama. The Tribune is proud to endorse him today for president of the United States.
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On Dec. 6, 2006, this page encouraged Obama to join the presidential campaign. We wrote that he would celebrate our common values instead of exaggerate our differences. We said he would raise the tone of the campaign. We said his intellectual depth would sharpen the policy debate. In the ensuing 22 months he has done just that.

Many Americans say they're uneasy about Obama. He's pretty new to them.

We can provide some assurance. We have known Obama since he entered politics a dozen years ago. We have watched him, worked with him, argued with him as he rose from an effective state senator to an inspiring U.S. senator to the Democratic Party's nominee for president.

We have tremendous confidence in his intellectual rigor, his moral compass and his ability to make sound, thoughtful, careful decisions. He is ready.

The change that Obama talks about so much is not simply a change in this policy or that one. It is not fundamentally about lobbyists or Washington insiders. Obama envisions a change in the way we deal with one another in politics and government. His opponents may say this is empty, abstract rhetoric. In fact, it is hard to imagine how we are going to deal with the grave domestic and foreign crises we face without an end to the savagery and a return to civility in politics.

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This endorsement makes some history for the Chicago Tribune. This is the first time the newspaper has endorsed the Democratic Party's nominee for president.

The Tribune in its earliest days took up the abolition of slavery and linked itself to a powerful force for that cause--the Republican Party. The Tribune's first great leader, Joseph Medill, was a founder of the GOP. The editorial page has been a proponent of conservative principles. It believes that government has to serve people honestly and efficiently.

With that in mind, in 1872 we endorsed Horace Greeley, who ran as an independent against the corrupt administration of Republican President Ulysses S. Grant. (Greeley was later endorsed by the Democrats.) In 1912 we endorsed Theodore Roosevelt, who ran as the Progressive Party candidate against Republican President William Howard Taft.

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.

Obama chose a more experienced and more thoughtful running mate--he put governing before politicking. Sen. Joe Biden doesn't bring many votes to Obama, but he would help him from day one to lead the country.

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McCain calls Obama a typical liberal politician. Granted, it's disappointing that Obama's mix of tax cuts for most people and increases for the wealthy would create an estimated $2.9 trillion in federal debt. He has made more promises on spending than McCain has. We wish one of these candidates had given good, hard specific information on how he would bring the federal budget into line. Neither one has.

We do, though, think Obama would govern as much more of a pragmatic centrist than many people expect.

We know first-hand that Obama seeks out and listens carefully and respectfully to people who disagree with him. He builds consensus. He was most effective in the Illinois legislature when he worked with Republicans on welfare, ethics and criminal justice reform.

He worked to expand the number of charter schools in Illinois--not popular with some Democratic constituencies.

He took up ethics reform in the U.S. Senate--not popular with Washington politicians.

His economic policy team is peppered with advisers who support free trade. He has been called a "University of Chicago Democrat"--a reference to the famed free-market Chicago school of economics, which puts faith in markets.

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Obama is deeply grounded in the best aspirations of this country, and we need to return to those aspirations. He has had the character and the will to achieve great things despite the obstacles that he faced as an unprivileged black man in the U.S.

He has risen with his honor, grace and civility intact. He has the intelligence to understand the grave economic and national security risks that face us, to listen to good advice and make careful decisions.

When Obama said at the 2004 Democratic Convention that we weren't a nation of red states and blue states, he spoke of union the way Abraham Lincoln did.

It may have seemed audacious for Obama to start his campaign in Springfield, invoking Lincoln. We think, given the opportunity to hold this nation's most powerful office, he will prove it wasn't so audacious after all. We are proud to add Barack Obama's name to Lincoln's in the list of people the Tribune has endorsed for president of the United States.

Now contrast the Tribune's glowing 2008 endorsement with its lukewarm advocation for Barack Obama re-election four years later. The 2012 endorsement sounds bitterly disappointed in Obama's failures to deliver on his unparallelled potential and in Mitt Romney's consistent failure to stand up for the positions he believes in during this campaign. I think this is a reasonable position shared by many Americans.

Editorial: Tribune Endorses Obama: Our Children's America

11:07 p.m. CDT, October 26, 2012

Think back.

Minutes before 2 a.m. on Sept. 15, 2008, a 158-year-old investment bank obscure to most Americans -- Lehman Brothers -- became the biggest company ever to file for bankruptcy. In succeeding days, then weeks, then months, the panic-inducing phrase “global financial crisis” lunged out of mothballs to frighten, and eventually debilitate, millions of households.

Credit seized. Employers retrenched. Jobs vanished. Home values plummeted. Partisans scanned the horizon for culprits, but there was no one place to aim the blame gun; plenty of villains on the left (who advocated mortgage lending to unqualified buyers) and on the right (who tolerated light oversight on the securitization of those terrible loans) had lined up emergencies like dominoes.

There was little reason to think the rookie president elected that November would be more than a bystander as those dominoes toppled. But that rookie, Barack Obama, with quick study and sure gait, led an administration effort to stabilize the U.S. economy. Through that long passage, still incomplete, Obama often has exhibited pragmatism when conventional liberal responses -- As for me, I blame Wall Street! -- wouldn’t have surprised any among us.

That record of pragmatism and focus in a moment of crisis, not his moves in any one policy realm, should help voters decide whether Obama spends the next four years gazing from a window at the Washington Monument -- or reading and writing at his red-brick manse in sweet home Chicago.

Four years ago, when we endorsed Obama’s run for the White House, we said he would act with decisiveness and intellectual rigor. Ironically he has shown those attributes most where Americans might have expected them least. That is, in his handling of an unfamiliar realm: world affairs. He set and stuck to a withdrawal schedule for U.S. troops in Iraq. He ordered a surge in Afghanistan -- to the anguish of many of his political supporters -- that gave that nation time to mature and, by the close of 2014, likely will conclude a war launched four weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He approved the perilous mission that killed Osama bin Laden.

Obama, in sum, has been careful about projecting military power overseas. At home he has initiated, or agreed to, tax cuts to promote growth: investment tax credits, payroll tax cuts and extension of all the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. He proposes to reduce a corporate tax rate that everyone this side of far left agrees is a globally unfair hindrance for U.S. businesses.

On questions of economics and limited government, the Chicago Tribune has forged principles that put us closer to the challenger in this race, Republican Mitt Romney. We write with those principles clearly in our minds. Romney advocates less spending, less borrowing -- overall, a less costly and less intrusive role for government in the lives of the governed.

And Obama? The federal deficits Obama pledged to halve instead have doubled. Not all his fault, but note that under his proposals going forward, the federal budget never balances. The fiscal cliff of dramatic Jan. 1 tax hikes and defense cuts inexorably approaches. In four years of budget proposals, the president has not offered anything resembling an action agenda to salvage Medicare, Social Security and other entitlement programs that are headed to insolvency.

The president has campaigned on a familiar call to tax “millionaires and billionaires.” Pretending that taxing the rich will achieve anything meaningful is a deceptive argument. Even if Obama’s entire tax plan was enacted, it would reduce our annual federal deficit by about … one-tenth.

We have hammered the White House repeatedly for its failure to forge some path to a less indebted American citizenry. Yes, Republicans were obstructionists in Obama’s second two years. But before that Obama had two years with a Democratic Congress and he chose to focus on Obamacare, a program whose wisdom we have questioned and whose cost estimates have swiftly grown.

And Mitt Romney? He projects himself as a sure-handed chief executive, a proven leader who solves problems. He has, though, been astonishingly willing to bend his views to the politics of the moment: on abortion, on immigration, on gun laws and, most famously, on health care.

As a governor, his signature issue was the deal he cut with Democrats to extend health care -- and a health insurance mandate -- to all citizens. Romneycare was the Massachusetts model on which key elements of Obamacare were modeled. Yet Romney won’t acknowledge he is, in effect, the godfather of the national health care plan he vows to repeal.

His proposals to achieve a balanced budget, and to begin reducing taxpayers’ huge debts, rest on questionable math and rosy assumptions.

He promises tax cuts for all but tells the middle class, don’t worry, you’ll pay less and the rich won’t get a break. How would he achieve that and balance the budget? No one really knows because Romney will not offer a complete prescription for his proposed 20-percent reduction in federal income tax rates. The rate cut would cost $5 trillion. Romney says that revenue would be recovered by reducing deductions and loopholes and through economic growth. Many Americans would like to know now if their mortgage deduction or health insurance deduction would diminish. Romney won’t say.

Romney’s recent suggestions to cap deductions at perhaps $25,000 per household -- you choose which ones you claim -- could be a cornerstone to federal tax reform. But we’re dubious that a deduction cap would pay for the steep rate reductions Romney advocates.

This nation faces no existential threat greater than the enormous federal indebtedness that imperils today’s America and, far more important, our children’s America. That slow strangulation endangers every household in the land -- when our debt payments skyrocket, our taxes rise to fill the fiscal voids, and entitlement programs go insolvent: Federal trustees now say our Social Security trust fund will run dry in 2033, not 2036 as they predicted just last year. Medicare's hospital fund will pay out its last dollar in 2024, not 2029 as the trustees projected two years ago.

Which of these two candidates, then, is likelier to reach a Go Big debt deal with Congress? Obama came close with House Speaker John Boehner in 2011, before Obama’s demand for additional tax revenue piqued Boehner who, regrettably, severed their negotiations. Where Obama and Boehner were headed — loosely, where the president’s Simpson-Bowles debt commission was headed two years ago -- is likely to be a template for a bipartisan debt deal, if one ever happens. The crucial missing ingredient from those incremental improvements: much more ambitious reform of entitlement programs that, as of now, cannot begin to keep America’s promises to today’s middle-aged adults, young adults, children and grandchildren.

Romney, by contrast, has too many campaign-attested priorities that would make a Go Big deal all but unaffordable with him in the White House. In recent days, more than 100 U.S. corporate executives under the auspices of the Campaign to Fix the Debt advocated that any deal include a mix of spending reductions and revenue hikes. The former alone, despite what Romney would have us believe, cannot negate the need for the latter.

Romney’s fix on tax cuts, plus his guarantee to protect defense spending that genuinely could constrict, leaves him precious little room to maneuver. Remember, the next president needs to reach deals that slash debt by many trillions -- without bankrupting Washington in the process.

The urgency for a bipartisan deficits-and-debt deal ought to be foremost on the tongues of both candidates this autumn. Each talks about it; neither even pretends it’s as important to him as winning this election. That maddening refusal of both candidates to level with voters is a tremendous disappointment -- a failure of convenience for two men who don’t want to alienate any voters.

Would re-electing Obama bring to Washington, at last, the changed tone he promised four year ago? Barring a reversal that virtually no one expects, Obama again would face strident opposition to his tax priorities from a Republican House.

There is the prospect, though, that both parties would step back from the ugly rancor of national politics and put America -- Americans -- first. Republicans could no longer focus on the defeat of Barack Obama -- he can’t run for a third term.

If a European debt meltdown doesn’t stoke another, pardon our repetition, global financial crisis, Obama’s next term would open to less economic tumult: Friday morning’s GDP reading confirms anew that U.S. economic growth has a fluttering heartbeat. Home prices are stabilizing, the stock market and consumer confidence have risen, and job growth has been steady if unspectacular.

Bolstered by his steadiness in office, cognizant of the vast unfinished business before him, we endorse the re-election of Barack Obama.

We do so with a plea to Obama and to Romney.

One of these decades, the children in which we now invest our hope, and our love, will speak with today’s adults about the America that we bequeathed to them. They will praise us for avoiding the financial ravages they watch other nations endure. Or they will condemn us for living ruinously beyond our means and forcing the enormous payback onto them -- a criminal act no previous American generation has committed against those that came next.

Mr. Obama, Mr. Romney, whichever of you occupies the White House for the next four years, that praise or condemnation will be your legacy.

The Daily Herald made major headlines this week when it became the first Chicagoland paper to ditch its endorsement of the hometown candidate.

Endorsement: The Case for Mitt Romney for President

Here, finally, we are. After months of seemingly endless campaigning, we arrive at the last few days of the race for the White House. After all that campaigning, many have openly wondered how anyone could still be undecided. We’re not among those who wonder. We believe the choice for president in 2012 is both difficult and profound. Whomever is elected will be trusted in large measure with the fate of a stumbling economy, a foreboding debt crisis, a gridlocked government and an unstable world.

But now after weeks of debate and reflection, and a good amount of uncertainty on our own part along the way, we have reached our decision. What we would give in this troubled time for certainty, for inspiration, for the exhilaration that Barack Obama aroused in so much of America four years ago.

Here’s what we believe: We believe that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are good and decent men who care about the country. We believe each possesses extraordinary skills and talent. But, philosophically, it is clear that one trusts government too much; the other appears to trust it too little.

In endorsing Illinois’ favorite son in 2008, we declared Obama “has a chance to be a great president.” We said, “He offers a new kind of politics. A politics that breaks down the old partisan walls. A politics that strives to bring people together. A politics of hope.”

There is no doubt that as president, Obama has recorded some significant achievements, some even historic. Even his adversaries have embraced some. He’s ended the war in Iraq, passed landmark health care legislation, opened the door toward civil rights for the gay community — all notable accomplishments.

But four years later, where is the hope? Where is the confident swagger and leadership to uplift the nation’s mood?

In that endorsement editorial four years ago, we described the landscape of America thusly: “Our country is polarized, our politics is unduly partisan and out of touch and our economy is on the brink of the worst financial calamity since the Great Depression.”

Today, our country is still polarized, our politics is still partisan, our economy slugs along painfully on one of the slowest recoveries in history and the country’s debt threatens our future and the future of our children.

How much of this should be laid at the feet of Barack Obama is difficult to say. The challenges to the country and to his leadership have been formidable, perhaps to an unprecedented level. The incessant hyperbolic-politics-as-entertainment drumbeat exacts a price in polarization that few presidents could overcome. The historic intransigence of a sizable bloc of Republicans in Congress has contributed mightily to the partisanship. Likewise, the debt has not been imposed by Obama alone. Republicans helped build it, and the failure of both sides to foster a constructive, bipartisan response has helped maintain and grow it. Both sides have embraced ideologies that don’t fit today’s overwhelming challenges, which must be met through moderation, consensus and collaboration.

Yet, in all these areas, Obama cannot escape the burden of his share of culpability.

At a time when the economy was wracked, he chose instead to focus on health care reform. In doing so, his administration chose early on to fight with Congress rather than to work with it. He chose to force his landmark health care bill through Congress without a single Republican vote, significantly contributing to the bitter atmosphere of division in Washington.

His economic initiatives have been heavily bent toward the public sector, a big spending approach that has been aptly derided by Romney as “trickle-down government.”

And however well intended his belief that the Bush tax cuts should be ended for upper-income brackets, his $250,000 benchmark has been remarkably low, as many two-income families and small business owners and others in the suburbs can attest.

More pointedly, we are disappointed in the tone of Obama’s relentless insinuations that wealthy Americans refuse to pay their fair share. That tone is divisive and damaging for the nation and for our economy. It creates villains and victims, and unfairly so.

In fact, call it wordsmithing if you like, but we think both Obama and Romney would better serve the country if they exercised more precision in their references to the so-called middle class.

We prefer the characterization espoused by Joseph Bast, president of The Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank that often is at odds with us on issues. “All this talk about the ‘middle class’ is wrong and divisive,” Bast said. “America is not a class society. We are an opportunity society. Middle-income people today are likely to be lower-income or upper-income people in just a few years, based on the choices they make.”

This is a point, unfortunately, that seems to be lost on President Obama, and ultimately, the point where we must break with him.

Mitt Romney is not a perfect candidate, and we have our share of concerns about him. We’re not the first to point out that his vacillation, in particular, has been troubling, while we understand the primary-election necessity to appeal to a conservative core of Republican voters.

But ultimately, we endorse Romney because he, unlike Obama, understands that jobs are a creation of business, not of government. And that to encourage job growth, we need policies that incent business to grow and provide it with a stable environment for that growth.

In the end, we need moderation, not ideology, to facilitate an economic recovery. It is the central issue that affects us all.

As the voice of the suburbs, we always have embraced this free enterprise philosophy as a bedrock of our principles. We view ourselves as independent, fiscally conservative, socially progressive, an advocate always for individual liberty. The Mitt Romney who governed Massachusetts governed it for the most part on those core beliefs as well.

Whether Obama’s inability to work across the aisle is the fault of his administration or the fault of the opposition is hard to say. But the failure of that relationship is undeniable, no matter who’s at fault. What evidence is there that a second term would bring stronger bipartisanship?

Romney, on the other hand, governed successfully in Massachusetts with a legislature that was almost totally controlled by the opposition party. He’s proven he can work across the aisle.

He’s proven capable in all that he has tried. He’s proven that he can run businesses and create jobs. He’s been successful in all walks of life.

“We don’t have to settle for what we’re going through,” Romney said during one of the debates. “We don’t have to settle for gasoline at four bucks. We don’t have to settle for unemployment at a chronically high level. We don’t have to settle for 47 million people on food stamps. We don’t have to settle for 50 percent of kids coming out of college not able to get work. We don’t have to settle for 23 million people struggling to find a good job.”

We know these are political stump messages. Four years ago, something similar could have come from candidate Barack Obama in his politics of hope oratory. And while we need inspiration, what is needed more than ever are bipartisan solutions to these profound issues of our times. We believe a new approach, steeped in moderation and, yes, compromise with the opposition is the only path to a better day.

A moderate Republican Mitt Romney offers a new approach to what we all can embrace — the politics of hope, of working together for the common good. This time, we believe he offers the best hope for all Americans.

Mitt Romney for president.

The Mayor Daily shares much of the sentiment expressed in the above editorials. Use the information here and from other places to make an informed selection for President if you are voting early. My formal endorsement for President will be published on Sunday after publishing editorials making the case for the re-election of Barack Obama and the election of Mitt Romney on Tuesday and Thursday. Also I have started to gather links to endorsements of each candidate. The best of these endorsements will be up on the Mayor Daily starting this afternoon.

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