10/25/2012 12:27 pm ET Updated Dec 25, 2012

A (Mormon?) Miracle? An Obama Endorsement From the Heart of Utah

Perhaps the most notable endorsement of a candidate in this year's heated Presidential campaign has been relatively unremarked, and begins like this:

Nowhere has Mitt Romney's pursuit of the presidency been more warmly welcomed or closely followed than here in Utah. The Republican nominee's political and religious pedigrees, his adeptly bipartisan governorship of a Democratic state, and his head for business and the bottom line all inspire admiration and hope in our largely Mormon, Republican, business-friendly state.

The source? The biggest newspaper in Utah, the Salt Lake Tribune. Their chosen candidate? Barack Obama.

Their piece is titled "Too Many Mitts", which is indicative of their reluctant problem supporting "the Mitt Romney we knew, or thought we knew, as one of us." Citing his Tea Party-courting rightward drift, contrasted with much of his previous record, they ask ""Who is this guy, really, and what in the world does he truly believe?" The evidence suggests no clear answer, or at least one that would survive Romney's next speech or sound bite." In fact, they say, he is "shameless,", and that "we have watched him morph into a friend of the far right, then tack toward the center with breathtaking aplomb. Through a pair of presidential debates, Romney's domestic agenda remains bereft of detail and worthy of mistrust."

This carefully-chosen language recalls the recent debates, wherein Obama repeatedly said "What Governor Romney just said is not true" -- a somewhat nicer way of calling him either ignorant or a liar. The Tribune is, or was, a Romney fan; they seem to be calling Romney a liar, and an opportunist. It must have been hard for them to do so, but they deserve credit from calling it as they see it, even from the heart of Mormonland. At last check, there were over 7500 online comments on the endorsement, many of them none too complimentary (and quite a few from folks who did not seem to had read the actual endorsement that upset them).

Romney's campaign has already expressed disdain for fact-checking. But non-experts and voters would be wise to heed such reality checks. In one of my chosen fields, health care policy, esteem for Romney/Ryan proposals does not run high, in some large part because health care does not fit very well into market economic models. Health care is not like cars or any other product where one can make a rational choice based upon quality and cost comparisons. Nor do standard supply-and-demand factors often apply -- in fact, it has long been shown that the more 'providers' in a given market, the higher the prices tend to be -- the opposite of what economic theory predicts. And so forth. There have been endless arguments in health policy circles about such things as "health savings accounts," a nice option for some people with extra income but even if widely applied, a trivial proposal for reducing aggregate health costs.

But with Romney/Ryan, ideology seems to dominate. A good fact-checking summary of their health proposals was recently provided by the New York Times here. The costs of health care must be controlled, and there are ways of doing that entailing much less suffering than throwing sick people to the wolves. Ayn Rand was neither economist nor doctor and thus this should not be surprising that few with any real knowledge of the issues take such proposals seriously.

And don't get me started on another crucial health policy issue, reproductive rights issues and the Taliban-like pronouncements on rape, contraception, and so forth coming regularly from the Republican ranks -- but please do recall those anytime somebody, usually a male, says it doesn't matter who wins the White House. And to take action on this topic, see

Newspapers have long been seen as tending to be left-leaning, rightly or not, and some will say the Salt Lake Tribune does not represent the general population of Utah. Could be. The Tribune's endorsement of Obama recalls the 2004 presidential battle, when the Lone Star Iconoclast newspaper of Crawford, Texas endorsed John Kerry over incumbent George W. Bush -- a local resident. Many in Crawford were angry about that endorsement, even if they didn't read it. But Crawford had but 700 residents; the Salt Lake Tribune, again, is a real paper serving a major population. Their editorial board, which authored the Obama endorsement, seemed to be bending over backward to reach a different conclusion. One suspects their decision was a difficult one -- like that of retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a Republican, who remarked as she was leaving the court, "What makes this harder is that it's my party that's destroying the country."

Thus, in conclusion, the Tribune's money quote: "Therefore, our endorsement must go to the incumbent, a competent leader who, against tough odds, has guided the country through catastrophe and set a course that, while rocky, is pointing toward a brighter day. The president has earned a second term. Romney, in whatever guise, does not deserve a first."

Those damn "liberals" again.