Since I received a spate of emails wondering how The Economist would come down with their Presidential endorsement, I figured I might as well end the suspense: it's Obama.
Released today, The Economist's endorsement is titled, "It's Time," and encourages America to "take a chance and make Barack Obama the next leader of the free world." That's the overall tenor of their support: the acknowledgment of a gamble, yet one they recommend with few misgivings:
The Economist does not have a vote, but if it did, it would cast it for Mr Obama. We do so wholeheartedly: the Democratic candidate has clearly shown that he offers the better chance of restoring America's self-confidence. But we acknowledge it is a gamble. Given Mr Obama's inexperience, the lack of clarity about some of his beliefs and the prospect of a stridently Democratic Congress, voting for him is a risk. Yet it is one America should take, given the steep road ahead.
The magazine does not take some dogmatic anti-McCain stance, saying that "selection of Mr McCain as the Republicans' candidate was a powerful reason to reconsider" voting to keep the GOP in charge of the Executive Branch, despite the "incompetence, cronyism and extremism of the Bush presidency." But the magazine makes their stance on McCain clear in a section that's titled, "If only the real John McCain had been running":
That, however, was Senator McCain; the Candidate McCain of the past six months has too often seemed the victim of political sorcery, his good features magically inverted, his bad ones exaggerated. The fiscal conservative who once tackled Mr Bush over his unaffordable tax cuts now proposes not just to keep the cuts, but to deepen them. The man who denounced the religious right as "agents of intolerance" now embraces theocratic culture warriors. The campaigner against ethanol subsidies (who had a better record on global warming than most Democrats) came out in favour of a petrol-tax holiday. It has not all disappeared: his support for free trade has never wavered. Yet rather than heading towards the centre after he won the nomination, Mr McCain moved to the right.
Meanwhile his temperament, always perhaps his weak spot, has been found wanting. Sometimes the seat-of-the-pants method still works: his gut reaction over Georgia--to warn Russia off immediately--was the right one. Yet on the great issue of the campaign, the financial crisis, he has seemed all at sea, emitting panic and indecision. Mr McCain has never been particularly interested in economics, but, unlike Mr Obama, he has made little effort to catch up or to bring in good advisers (Doug Holtz-Eakin being the impressive exception).
Oh, also? Choosing Sarah Palin was doubleplusungood! Funny how smart people keep on suggesting this was a mistake! Take down their names today, and see what contortions they undergo in 2012!
Overall, The Economist hangs their hat on Obama because of his transformative identity, the management of his campaign and its innovations, his coolness under pressure, the observation that "political fire...seems to bring out the best in him," and the belief that he "listens, learns and manages well." This is all pretty generic stuff for an endorsement, so let's dig into The Economist's concerns:
Our main doubts about Mr Obama have to do with the damage a muddle-headed Democratic Congress might try to do to the economy. Despite the protectionist rhetoric that still sometimes seeps into his speeches, Mr Obama would not sponsor a China-bashing bill. But what happens if one appears out of Congress? Worryingly, he has a poor record of defying his party's baronies, especially the unions. His advisers insist that Mr Obama is too clever to usher in a new age of over-regulation, that he will stop such nonsense getting out of Congress, that he is a political chameleon who would move to the centre in Washington. But the risk remains that on economic matters the centre that Mr Obama moves to would be that of his party, not that of the country as a whole.
Ultimately, you get the feeling that the dividing line is McCain's flaws rather than Obama's qualities. One wonders how the magazine might have come down if McCain's response to the economic crisis had been even semi-competent. Nevertheless, The Economist concludes that "Obama deserves the presidency."