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Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Washington Post's Strange Endorsement of John Cook

Lowell, at Blue Virginia, noticed the same thing that I did in the Washington Post’s endorsement today of John Cook for Supervisor. Their editorial endorsing him lacked logic. It almost looks like the editorial board needed a Republican to endorse so angry Republicans would stop accusing them of leaning Democratic. In truth, the Washington Post is neither Democratic nor Republican, and it certainly isn’t liberal, despite conservatives’ claims to the contrary. The newspaper’s editorial position is centrist and pro-business. On social positions, they tack liberal, on fiscal and business issues they move to the right.

The Democrats they’ve endorsed, including Mark Warner; Sharon Bulova; and Gerry Connolly, are generally moderate, pro-business Democrats who received the endorsements of business and real estate groups as well as union support. The Post also endorses moderate Republicans like Tom Davis, Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, and Frank Wolf. Move too far to the left or right and the Post won’t be writing an editorial urging voters to choose you come Election Day.

Today’s endorsement of John Cook, however, seemed particularly odd, not because he’s not a good candidate, but because the reasoning – or actually lack of reasoning – is startling. Here’s what the Washington Post said:

Both candidates in Tuesday's special election, School Board member Ilryong Moon (D) and Kings Park Civic Association President John Cook (R), are worthy successors. (Carey C. Campbell, an independent, is also on the ballot.) Mr. Moon has more experience with countywide issues, but Mr. Cook has the more intricate grasp of neighborhood ones. Mr. Moon would bring welcome ethnic diversity to the board as the first Asian American elected official in Northern Virginia; Mr. Cook would bring welcome ideological diversity as one of only three Republicans on the 10-member board. It's not an easy call, but based on his ability to present a different point of view without being reactionary or doctrinaire, Mr. Cook has the slight edge.
So according to the Washington Post, ideological diversity is more important than ethnic diversity? Some might beg to disagree with that line of reasoning. By that logic, we should have communists, socialists, and Nazis in our government too. After all, most politicians, regardless of which of the major parties they belong to, believe in a representative democracy and a capitalist economic system. We may argue about specifics, such as how large a role government should play in regulating industry, providing a safety net, and helping people, but nobody I know wants to permanently nationalize oil companies, the auto industry, or even banks. So, by the Washington Post's own logic, I expect them to endorse a few socialists for Congress in the next election. Maybe a fascist or two for the state House of Delegates. That would bring much needed diversity to government.

Seriously, supporting a candidate just because his ideas are different from those of the prevailing majority is nonsensical. Nowhere does the Washington Post say that Cook’s ideas are actually better than those of the rest of the Board of Supervisors. Yet that is precisely what the standard should be when they make an endorsement.

Also, in terms of experience, I’m not sure I buy their logic that the experience of a civic association president trumps that of an elected official, who – by the Post’s own admission – “has grappled with budgets that exceed $1 billion; as a former member of the county's Planning Commission, he is fluent in development issues.”

That’s especially true since in their very first sentence, the Post also said that whoever wins “will have to help guide Fairfax through a challenging budget crunch -- and that's only part of the job.” So, the person who has already worked with county budgets of over $1 billion on a routine basis is not the one most qualified to deal with the tremendous challenge of the budget crunch? That’s because there are too many Democrats on the Board, not because he, himself, has proved not up to the challenge?

I am not going to disparage Mr. Cook’s experience with the Kings Park Civic Association. Nor will I take issue with his grasp of neighborhood issues in his own community. Those seeking elective office have to start somewhere, and civic and community volunteerism is a pretty good place to start. More power to him for going the next step to run for elective office. My quarrel isn't with him. It's not even with the Washington Post for choosing him. It's with their lack of a logical editorial.

If the Post had been able to cite a valid reason why Mr. Cook was a better candidate and why he would be better on the Board of Supervisors, based on fresh, new ideas or a better grasp of the issues at hand, that would be a different story. But they make no such case. Indeed, they admit that both men are impressive. The simple fact remains, however, that Ilryong Moon has more experience and a better grasp of countywide issues. Mr. Cook’s only real qualification, according to the Washington Post, is that he’s not a Democrat. But by that logic, Mr. Moon should qualify because he’s not a white guy. That’s how silly the Post’s logic is.

Further, the Post seems to think consensus is a bad thing. So, do they favor its opposite, obstructionism? People all over the country are tired of naysayers who block progress. If the election of Barack Obama showed anything, it was that people wanted more consensus and bipartisanship in Washington, not less. Somehow, I think the citizens of Fairfax County, who voted overwhelmingly for Obama in November, would agree with that wish. The other thing citizens want in their government is pragmatism and ideas that work. I think a good case can be made that the Democrats, not the Republicans, have those ideas right now.

Ironically, while the majority of Americans were dissatisfied with the way the country was going in November, most Fairfax County residents approved of the direction that Fairfax County was taking. It’s consistently rated one of the best run counties. And its schools are cited as being among the best in the nation. So, why would Fairfax residents need to vote into office somebody from a party with whom they disagree simply because there are, by the Post’s reckoning, too many Democrats and too much consensus on the Board of Supervisors?

The Washington Post has not made a case that Fairfax County needs a change of direction. Nor has it made a reasonable argument that John Cook is more qualified than Ilryong Moon to be a supervisor. All the Post has done is left a lot of folks scratching their heads, wondering why their argument lacks coherence. It's not an endorsement that helps their choice of candidate.


AnonymousIsAWoman said...

I want to add that I am not implying that John Cook would be an obstructionist or that he doesn't have good ideas.

It's just that the Washington Post editorial didn't discuss the actual substance of his ideas. They simply failed to make a good case for picking him.

BTW, if you live in Braddock District, the special election is Tuesday, March 10.

VA Blogger said...

Apparently, you and Lowell both received a copy of the Washington Post that had entire paragraphs cut out. Perhaps you missed this part:

"Mr. Cook's tenure as the leader of the Kings Park association since 2006 has been impressive. At a time of declining civic involvement, membership in the group, which represents a community of 1,100 homes, has grown significantly. That can be attributed to Mr. Cook's efforts to educate members about the neighborhood and to hold community-building events. Mr. Cook, a lawyer, also showed the ability to cross party lines in working with Ms. Bulova on a pilot program that targeted zoning violations, such as houses filled with boarders."

That's the rationale for Cook's candidacy, not just that he's not a Republican. You spent four paragraphs dissecting one phrase, but you didn't spend a single word discussing this entire paragraph that explains exactly why the Post feels Cook would make an excellent Supervisor.

As for "Most Qualified", you also apparently missed this entire section:

"For example, Mr. Cook raises legitimate concerns about the county's costly affordable-housing program; Mr. Moon's position on that issue, and other difficult ones, is less than clear."

Yes, Mr. Moon has a record of handling the School Budget (and growing it by millions and millions of dollars every year, including asking for $57 million more this year in the middle of a $650 million shortfall), but he's also dodged questions and issues this entire campaign, apparently including to the Washington Post.

Finally, the Post never said "consensus is a bad thing"; they said the Board sometimes suffers too much from being an echo chamber. As for your "obstructionist" claims, did you forget that, even with John Cook, Republicans would only have three of ten seats on the Board? Democrats will still be able to ram misguided priorities down their throats (like creating a new bureaucracy for homelessless a month before the County Executive proposes cutting 180+ public safety jobs), but Republicans will be in a stronger position to offer an alternate opinion. I think that's valuable; so, too, does the Washington Post.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

You actually did a better job of making your case for your candidate than the Washington Post did.

Most people reading the WaPo editorial would simply come to the conclusion that the Post objected to consensus on the Board.

They did mention, in passing, the issue of the affordable housing initiative for county workers, but they did not explain much about why that would be important.

As you know, I think it's a good plan and support it. But the Post didn't make a case for what is wrong with it and why Cook would be better than Moon on this or other issues.

As I said, this post was a criticism of the Washington Post's logic more than Cook's candidacy.

Still, I know we disagree on whether the direction that Fairfax County is taking is good. Most voters here believe we are moving in the right direction and are satisfied with the services provided by the county. They support Fairfax schools and believe their children are getting a good education.

So, it's difficult to make the case to voters that we need somebody who opposes the policies and people who are satisfying them and meeting their needs.

VA Blogger said...

You're making a mighty big assumption in saying that John Cook, or Pat Herrity for that matter, opposes the policies that satsify and meet the needs of Fairfax Residents.

They oppose government spending on affordable housing, and instead support other methods like non-profits and the private sector, and requiring developers set aside 20% of new developments for lower-income residents (at least, Cook does; I haven't asked Pat that position specifically). This keeps the County focused on providing afforable housing without creating a massive government bureaucracy, as well as the cost of maintaining those units and the administrative tasks related to them as well, which are better off handled by a landlord, not the government. Arlington County owns zero units of government housing. It's not a matter of right versus left, it's a matter of using taxpayer money wisely.

As for other issues, what specifically do you believe John Cook opposes that Fairfax voters need? He supports strengthening neighborhoods and providing excellent constituent service, he supports closing down boarding houses, something the Post mentioned he worked with Bulova on, he supports not raising the taxes people pay during a recession (something Moon agreed with at a recent debate), he supports not making drastic public safety cuts in the budget, and he supports focusing spending on teachers and students, rather than maintaining our 3-to-1 administrator-to-teacher ratio (with Mr. Moon on the School Board, no less). What in that litany of positions do Fairfax voters, or you, object to?

pariahdog said...

Can you explain why Congressman Frank Wolf is considered a moderate? He certainly is not moderate on social issues.