When Franklin D. Roosevelt lifted his hand on March 4, 1933, to take the oath of office after an American financial earthquake, our financial system was so broken that many felt it needed a savior.
Within 100 days, the four-year governor of New York—whom Walter Lippmann had declared “a pleasant man who, without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be President”—had broken through the national panic and redefined the ambitions of the American presidency.
The current crises match what Franklin Roosevelt faced: We have been dealt a financial body-blow, and are running a pair of wars.
On the other hand, the next president will be following George W. Bush, whose lack of leadership almost guarantees his successor will be judged a paradigm of informed decisiveness and focus by comparison, no matter which candidate wins.
America in 2008 has a choice between two candidates who may be the most impressive pair of party nominees in 50 years. One of them represents the best of the 20th-century American character; the other embodies the potential greatness of the American future.
We endorse Barack Obama for president of the United States.
John McCain is a good man; he may be a great one. Despite his almost irredeemable choice of running mate, he remains the same rough and ready rebel who snarled and yapped his way off the carpet last winter when he had already been declared D.O.A. and won the Republican nomination, vanquishing the slick and slimy former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, who endured Mr. McCain’s bite during the primary debates and limped off the stage to the dark shadows reserved for reformed hypocrites.
Mr. McCain’s self-described straight-talking persona is well earned, his character is legend, his sense of humor intact, his integrity one for the books.
Mr. Obama, the Democratic nominee, is something else altogether.
“I would not be running for president,” he said in March, “if I didn’t believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation—the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.”
In an amazing stretch of campaigning, Barack Obama infused the American democratic process with vigor and life. In a season of manifest corruption and martial arrogance imposed by the Bush administration, his campaign restored integrity and personal investment in the American political system. The very caucuses that the Clinton campaign derided put thousands of Americans in gymnasiums and schoolrooms speaking for their candidates, whoever they were, with a passion that was Mr. Obama’s gift to this season.
Some of this can be ascribed to the fact of his being: He is, as he described it, “the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas … raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas … married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slave owners. … I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents. … In no other country on earth is my story even possible.”
The 20th century is behind us. We are a nation of ongoing action, a nation of economic strength combined with moral inculcation. That particular merger adds up to creating the moral and financial strength to meet any crisis of the 21st century. A nation that cannot employ and secure its citizens cannot secure its place in the world, militarily or diplomatically.
Mr. Obama has provided an impressive set of proposals to lead the nation: to intelligently secure the American economy; to forward a 21st-century approach for independent American energy; to reduce the American fighting forces in Iraq; to focus on the crisis in Afghanistan; to speak precisely with impressive perspective on American priorities around the globe; to protect the integrity of the appointments in the Supreme Court; to demand a centrist government from this Congress; to restore a plain-spoken, non-ideological White House.
His proposals and drive offer America an uplifting glimpse of a nation that continues to influence and define goodness in the world, not with troops and enforcement, but with the power of ideas, ethics and decency. Mr. Obama appeals to our sense of justice when he speaks about the ways in which the Bush administration has manipulated the law to suit its political goals. He speaks to the nation’s justified doubts about the Iraqi misadventure, and has a plan to bring that sad chapter in our history to a close while refocusing our efforts against our enemies in the caves near Afghanistan. Mr. Obama does not condemn the war in Iraq for being wrong on its own terms, and it’s clear at this juncture in the campaign he will not jeopardize the gains made in that conflict.
He understands the importance of a green economy, of restructuring the American economy as powerfully as Edison and Ford did at the beginning of the 20th century. He has a deep, comprehensive commitment to the environment that ought to command bipartisan consensus as we seek to reduce greenhouse gases, reduce our scandalous dependence on foreign oil, and embark on one of mankind’s great missions—saving the planet we love.
These are 21st-century issues, defined by a man who understands that such issues require solutions that post-date the There Will Be Blood era.
It’s true that Mr. McCain has taken on Big Oil and that he has opposed drilling in the Alaskan wildlife refuge—admirable positions. But his nuclear-laden energy policy lacks the creativity and vision of Mr. Obama’s, whose vocabulary on the issue and the environment in general exceeds that of Mr. McCain’s.
We are trying hard not to hold Mr. McCain guilty by association with the egregious, greedy, anti-democratic crimes of the Cheney energy commission—but we have to admit, it’s more difficult than we would like.
These kinds of critical domestic issues are not Mr. McCain’s strength, and it shows.
We cannot say we are big fans of Mr. Obama’s tax policy. Mr. Obama promises that 95 percent of Americans will see no tax increase under his proposals; indeed, they will get a tax cut. The burden of his tax hike will fall on the more affluent 5 percent of the nation. Pardon us for our skepticism, but that sounds like a bill of goods, one that we’re not buying. And why, in any case, should Mr. Obama be contemplating any sort of tax increase at a time of such economic uncertainty? Much will change before Inauguration Day. Even more will change before Mr. Obama figures out how to get from the Oval Office to the Cabinet Room without a map. Why should he lock in a tax hike now?
One of the glories of the Clinton years was the economic bench that the “Economy, Stupid” Bunch brought to Washington: Lloyd Bentsen, Bob Rubin, Larry Summers. We’d like to see Mr. Obama reach out to the centrist and business-loving branch of the Democratic Party once more.
Our choice was made somewhat more difficult by a nagging hope that Mr. McCain would turn his campaign around and remind us more of the man we knew. It’s not too late for that, but the past months have shown us the kind of president that Mr. Obama might be.
The times call for a leader in tune with the America that is to come, a president who understands that the problems of today and tomorrow require us to think new thoughts. Barack Obama understands that we must restore our American democracy and move forward, as President Roosevelt planned to say in his last speech, “with a strong and active faith.”
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