These are uncertain times. Americans' confidence in our leaders and institutions has been shaken by a failing economy, lengthy wars and an erosion of civil liberties. We feel uneasy about our personal financial security, the country's place in the world and what the future holds. Frankly, after eight disastrous years under President Bush, either John McCain or Barack Obama would be a significant improvement and offer more reassuring leadership. But one candidate offers a clearer break with the past, the qualities to unite this country and the vision to lead it in a new direction. With enthusiasm, the Times recommends Barack Obama for president. Obama's inspiring message of hope and change resonates throughout America. It can be seen in the enormous numbers of new registered voters, the enthusiasm of younger citizens and the excitement among those engaged in the political process for the first time. The hunger for a new leader with fresh ideas has combined with the realization that old assumptions and Washington responses are no match for today's sobering new realities. This is an opportunity to turn to a leader from a new generation, someone who has the intellectual depth and inspirational qualities to confront the complicated issues at hand and create a shared vision for a brighter future for all Americans — regardless of their financial or social status.
Here is a 47-year-old candidate for president, born in the 1960s, unscarred by Vietnam or the social turmoil of those times. The son of a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya, Obama was raised by his mother and grandparents and did not have the comfortable family life portrayed on old television shows. His political resume as an Illinois state legislator and U.S. senator is relatively thin. Instead, he offers a rich life experience that ranges from Harvard Law School, where he was elected president of the law review, to Chicago's poor neighborhoods, where he worked as a community organizer. This is not a typical White House resume, but there is a curiosity about the world and a commitment to improve it that is admirable, not somehow suspicious as his opponents suggest.
We recommended Obama before the Florida primary in January as the Democrat who offered the most promise and a fresh start. Since then, he has continued to impress. His approach to creating a fairer tax policy and expanding health care with a blend of public and private coverage stands up well to scrutiny. His determination to rely more on diplomacy than force in foreign policy and to seek a timely, orderly withdrawal of troops from Iraq remains the most pragmatic approach. His acknowledgement that more troops are needed in Afghanistan should reassure those concerned about his willingness to use military force where needed. His energy proposals, while opening the door more than necessary to offshore drilling, are bold and balanced. As the economic crisis has mushroomed, he has responded with an appropriate mix of caution and sound principles grounded in reality.
We also recommended McCain in the Florida Republican primary. At the time, we acknowledged our serious disagreements with his embrace of the Bush tax cuts he once opposed, his determination to keep fighting in Iraq and his opposition to abortion rights. But the Arizona senator's history of challenging conventional Republican thinking on issues such as immigration and climate change, his candor and his willingness to reach across party lines made him an attractive candidate. McCain, 72, remains an American hero, a former Vietnam prisoner of war whose service to his country has been honorable. Yet his campaign in recent months has been unworthy of his record and raises serious questions about his judgment and leadership if elected.
Most disturbing has been McCain's choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. It was a reckless decision based on political calculations, not the country's best interests. There were many more qualified candidates, including Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. While Palin is an aggressive campaigner who has her own independent streak, she is clearly not prepared to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. Contrast McCain's most important decision as a presidential candidate with Obama's thoughtful selection of Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, an experienced hand comfortable on the world stage and well versed in foreign policy.
As the election draws nearer, McCain's proposals sound more dated and his actions appear more impulsive. He continues to push for making all of Bush's tax cuts permanent and adding some of his own in the face of a soaring deficit. His call for across-the-board spending freezes lacks imagination, and his campaign against pork-barrel spending is commendable but hardly the cure to the nation's deteriorating fiscal health. McCain's market-driven health care proposal costs too much to accomplish too little. His energy policy boils down to building nuclear plants and "drill, baby, drill!" While he proved to be right about the benefits of a military surge in Iraq, his refusal to consider a timetable for withdrawing troops suggests an open-ended commitment the nation cannot afford and the public will not accept. His response to the economic crisis bounced from brainstorm to brainstorm while failing to offer reassurance or clear direction.
McCain was the victim of sleazy campaign attacks in the 2000 Republican primary and bitterly denounced them. But now his campaign has tried to raise doubts about Obama by resorting to the same sort of racially charged innuendo and scare tactics. His warnings about socialism and redistribution of wealth are signs of desperation from a campaign out of ideas.
While Obama's campaign has taken some unfair shots at McCain, the Democrat has remained far more focused and confident. His judgment and demeanor serve him well, and his lack of experience in Washington has been offset by an ability to attract smart, seasoned advisers ranging from Biden to former Secretary of State Colin Powell to investor Warren Buffett. While Obama at times can seem aloof, thoughtful consideration in the White House would be welcome after a president who relied on gut instinct above all else.
There are some hard realities. The economic crisis, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other factors not yet known may make many of the details in campaign policy papers irrelevant. Obama also rarely stands up to the leadership of his own party. For example, he is too willing to pander to old-school union opposition to free trade. He has to learn to say no to the Democrats who control Congress and the special interests that control them.
A generation ago, the nomination of an African-American for president would have been unimaginable. Now Obama stands on the brink of history, and his election would send a powerful message to the world about how far Americans have come on issues of equality and opportunity. But voters should look beyond skin color in selecting the next president. They should look for the candidate who best represents their hopes and aspirations, who can meet the nation's difficult challenges with sophisticated responses, who can inspire us and unite this country as he turns the page and leads America in a new direction.
For president of the United States, the Times recommends Barack Obama.