When the 21st century began, America was still widely regarded and well respected as the international economic leader, defender of oppressed nations, moral leader of the world. That was before 9-11, the war on terror, an adventurous invasion and poorly planned occupation of Iraq and the collapse of major financial institutions here and around the globe.
A presidency that began with the practical promise of compassionate conservatism is lumbering to its ignominious end. That follows a series of scalding revelations that too often have shown indifference to the environment, disregard for the plight of the poor and insufficient respect for the high ideals that made America special in the 20th century.
Against that backdrop, this year's presidential election offers a choice like no other in memory: John McCain, a decorated veteran who survived five years as a prisoner of war before forging an admirable record of bipartisanship in the U.S. Senate for nearly three decades; or Barack Obama, a young, thoughtful, inspirational speaker who has attracted millions of Americans back to the electoral process with his message of transformational change and bright hope for the future.
This choice is complicated by the puzzling election-year disappearance of the Sen. John McCain whom many Americans have admired since his military days, when he might have taken the easy way out of detention to return to America. That he refused to do so is a shining example of heroism. His subsequent Senate service and his independence of thought brought him admirers across party lines who saw in him hope for a government motivated not by partisanship but by a commitment to solving problems involving the best thinkers across the political spectrum.
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We don't know what happened to that John McCain. In his pandering to the political right on some issues and his impulsive selection of a woefully unprepared governor as his vice presidential candidate, McCain has created doubts about his judgment that did not previously exist, and exposed how his reputation as a maverick can seem more like recklessness than courage. In doing so he has frittered away confidence in his ability to deal with a discouraging array of problems that will confront the next president.
By contrast, Sen. Barack Obama's inexperience in executive matters constitutes less of a concern than ordinarily it might. His intellect, his calm, rational approach to difficult issues, his coolness during the heat of debate and his sense of humor and humility offer something millions of Americans have yearned for in national politics – the ability to examine issues thoughtfully, to listen to competing interests and to develop solutions that more closely meet the needs of all.
Elsewhere in today's newspaper readers will find a Voters Guide that compares the presidential candidates' stands on a number of issues. In some cases they have shown similarities, such as on immigration and a path to citizenship, or their interest in reducing air pollution. They also show key differences, such as abortion policy. Obama supports the Roe v. Wade decision allowing abortion; McCain once said he supported it but for years has opposed it. We're more comfortable with the nominations Obama would be likely to make to the Supreme Court. On Iraq, McCain strongly supported the surge that led to less violence but is unwilling to set a withdrawal deadline. Obama would withdraw combat troops by mid-2010 but leave some U.S. forces to help train Iraqis to defend themselves.
There are sharp differences on other issues, including health policy. McCain wants to provide tax credits for health care and work with states to provide more access. Obama has a broader approach that would provide comprehensive care, including for pre-existing conditions, for Americans.
That's an example of the more inclusive, positive approach that distinguishes Obama's campaign and which has attracted so much interest in this election. In an era that begs for a return to the standards of decency and respect for the rule of law that made America great, Obama offers thoughtful proposals for a rational way to respond to the nation's needs. The Observer enthusiastically endorses Barack Obama for president.