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A Sign of the Times

For the first time since before Watergate, the New York Times endorsed no Republicans for election to Congress this year.

It's a sign of a few things: The polarized country, the end of a meaningful moderate wing of the GOP, and the Times's own move left.

A look back at the Times archives through 1972 finds that the paper's powerful editorial page endorsed at least one Republican for the House or Senate every year. Some of these were well-known local moderates like Hamilton Fish and Bill Green. Others include a young Connecticut candidate named John Rowland in 1986.

The page, at least according to a 1982 editorial, made a considered decision to avoid nationalizing its picks.

[Democrats hope] that the voters shout ''no'' to Reaganomics by electing dozens more Democrats to the House and maybe even restoring Democratic control of the Senate.

That would strengthen their chances of undoing the hollow Reagan program, which even George Bush once called voodoo economics and George Stigler, the new Nobel economics laureate now describes as somewhere between a gimmick and a slogan. In other words, if you hate Reaganomics, vote Democratic. That logic, however, raises a classic dilemma: should one vote for a party or for a candidate?

The candidate, we say, and not just because we are in the business of offering individual endorsements. Even if the Democrats should win big on Tuesday, they offer no coherent answer to unemployment and recession.

Some say re-create costly public service jobs programs; others would build public works and renew infrastructure; still others would follow Walter Mondale's advice to control the deficit and civilize interest rates.

It's all easier said than done and even voters who are angry about the Reagan program are far from sure that the Democrats have a credible answer. Liking Reaganomics less is not the same as liking Democrats more. All the more reason to choose individuals rather than ideology.

The paper that year, as usual, went mostly with Democrats, including Mario Cuomo, but also backed two Republicans for Congress, Lowell Weicker and Lewis Rome. Now, as then, it justifies its endorsements on a local basis, but this year there's a distinct national edge, as in this disavowal of Connecticut's Nancy Johnson, which the page supported for years: "We've supported Ms. Johnson in the past, but are disenchanted with her support of her leadership's radical agenda." In other words, the page seems to recognize that the most important vote any legislator casts is the first one, for leadership.


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