Newspaper editorial pages, already sapped of their energy by decades of corporate considation of ownership, have become even more drab in recent years.
With a few notable exceptions—the swashbuckling conservatism of the Wall Street Journal, the reasonably steady liberalism of the St. Louis Post Dispatch—the energy drain on editorial pages has been sapped newspapers not merely of the souls but of their potential to contribute to the democratic processes as the founders intended.
For the most part, daily newspapers in major cities defend a dull status quo, fearing to challenge expectations or conventional wisdom. Thus, most newspapers backed the war in Iraq when they should have opposed it, just as most continue to back the occupation of Afghanistan. Most back free-trade deals that rob their communities of jobs. Most back bank bailouts that rob taxpayers to pay speculators. And most back incumbent candidates of the parties with which they have historically been associated.
But the Boston Globe broke pattern this year with a muscular endorsement of Mac D’Alessandro, the public-interest lawyer and union activist who is challenging disappointing Democratic Congressman Stephen Lynch.
Lynch is not the worst Democrat in Congress. He has, for instance, opposed the bank bailouts that many other Democrats have backed.
But he’s been on the wrong side of a lot of issues. For instance, he backed the invasion and occupation of Iraq, when most members of the Massachusetts delegation—led by the late Senator Edward Kennedy—recognized that no case had been made for doing so.
On another issue that was close to Kennedy’s heart, fixing the nation’s broken health-care system, Lynch was more resistant to real reform than any other member of the delegation—and than most Democrats in Congress.
Those stances have drawn a smart, issue-oriented challenge to Lynch in Tuesday’s Democratic primary from D’Alessandro, a former political director of the Massachusetts Service Employees’ International Union.
And, last week, the Globe endorsed D’Alessandro’s run, arguing that the challenger would be "an articulate advocate for working people" more in keeping with the Boston-area district’s former representative: the great Joe Moakley.
The Globe explains that "D’Alessandro has a ground-level perspective on the district. A graduate of Boston College Law School, he dedicated himself to community activism, first though Greater Boston Legal Services, where he rose to legislative director and lobbied Beacon Hill for job-training programs, and more recently as political director of the Massachusetts Service Employees’ International Union. Clearly, SEIU’s anger at Lynch over health care motivated D’Alessandro’s challenge. But his quarrel with Lynch is also about style and energy: He argues that "the district needs a more resourceful advocate, a representative who defines his priorities clearly and sets out to produce measurable returns."
That’s a savvy take. And it is not the easy one. Incumbents usually win and Lynch has plenty of support, from the conservative Boston Herald, as well as much of the Democratic and labor leadership of a town where he has been a player for decades.
The Globe‘s decision to back an insurgent challenge distinguishes the paper. It also offers a rare sign of life from old media that is dying as much from dullness as from economic shifts and new-media competition.