Sunday, Oct. 19, 2008 | 2 a.m.
The closing weeks of the 2008 presidential election are starting to have the feel of the 1980 and 1992 races.
One of the threads that links the three presidential elections is the uncertain and troubling times, an anxiety intensified by a wobbly economy, which we certainly are living through today.
Public opinion is gloomy, as reflected in a recent CBS News-New York Times poll in which 89 percent of respondents said the country is on the wrong track and only 7 percent said we are on the right track.
The United States is facing what has been described as the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. A decline in consumer spending, concern over rising unemployment and the precipitous drop in the stock markets, in which so many Americans have their retirements tied up in 401(k) plans, are alarming.
In the 1980 and 1992 elections, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were decidedly different in their political outlooks, but they won in part because they had an unerring sense of how to connect with the American people. Reagan and Clinton were victorious not just because their ideas resonated with voters but because they also offered the country optimism, a sense of hope and leadership that had been lacking in the White House.
Reagan and Clinton understood that voters wanted a dramatic change in direction in Washington and the nation, which brings us to this year’s presidential election.
BREAK FROM THE PAST
John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, and Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, each says he will bring genuine change to Washington.
McCain portrays himself as a maverick, but the reality is that on fundamental economic and foreign policy issues, his record is almost identical to that of George Bush, whose job approval ratings are abysmal, rivaling those of disgraced President Nixon when he was forced to resign from office in the wake of the Watergate scandal.
President Bush’s policies have saddled Americans with a $10 trillion debt and an economy that is shaky at best. McCain’s prescriptions for getting us out of this mess are something out of the Bush playbook — more tax cuts for the wealthy. If Bush’s policies aren’t working now, the warmed-over version of them that McCain is selling won’t be any more effective if he is elected president.
Obama, in contrast, wants more of any tax cuts or economic stimulus packages to go to the working men and women of this country, the ones who weren’t showered with the benefits from Bush’s tax cuts, which favored wealthier Americans.
A SOUND FOREIGN POLICY
McCain also enjoys selling himself as having the steady hand to be president, someone who can steer our country through crises, especially those that might require military action, and claims Obama is the untested commodity whom we can’t trust with the keys to the White House.
But it doesn’t go unnoticed that we still have nearly 150,000 troops in Iraq more than five years after we invaded that country, an invasion that Obama opposed and that both Bush and McCain assured us would be a walk in the park. So who had the sound judgment then?
We certainly can’t also forget that Osama bin Laden, more than seven years after the deadly 9/11 attacks, is still on the loose, probably along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, two nations that ostensibly are our allies.
McCain has ridiculed Obama for saying he would act unilaterally to get bin Laden if we couldn’t get the assistance of Pakistan’s government. McCain suggested that doing so could upset our relationship with that nation.
Sorry, but if Pakistan or any other government is harboring bin Laden, it’s tough to see exactly how it would be an ally and why our nation wouldn’t carry out a military operation against bin Laden. Look what he did to us.
When it comes to foreign policy, Obama has said he would stand by our allies, militarily if necessary. Still, he would strike a much different tone from that of Bush — with which McCain has agreed — stressing diplomacy in the first instance and military might if required.
WHY JUDGMENT MATTERS
When McCain made the surprise selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate, he received a temporary bump in the polls. The McCain campaign touted Palin as a reformer who took on the Republican political establishment in Alaska and won.
But McCain’s selection of Palin is now viewed as a disaster. For starters, it’s an understatement to say she embellished her reputation as a reformer.
Initially she claimed she helped kill the infamous piece of pork in Alaska known as the Bridge to Nowhere. But she supported it wholeheartedly until a furor in Congress erupted over federal funding to build the bridge.
Only after it was clear Congress was going to cut funding for the bridge did she oppose it. Some reformer.
She has been governor of Alaska for less than two years and, before that, mayor of Wasilla, a town of fewer than 10,000 people. In what few interviews the McCain campaign has risked letting Palin give to the media, she has demonstrated how little she knows and understands about complex domestic and international issues.
The far right embraces Palin because she is an ideologue, but Americans have seen firsthand what eight years of an ideologue as president can do to our country. They want something different; they want someone who will make the best decision based on the facts, not based on whether it fits a particular political orthodoxy or suits the needs of a powerful special interest group.
Palin should never have been considered for the vice presidency, the proverbial heartbeat away from the presidency. McCain’s selection of Palin demonstrated a profound lack of judgment and is an insult to the American people.
Obama, in contrast, passed one of his first tests of presidential leadership when he asked Joe Biden to join the ticket. Biden, with his decades of service as a U.S. senator and his expertise in foreign policy, is more than capable of stepping in and being president.
A FRIEND OF NEVADA
Of special interest to Nevadans are the candidates’ views on the Yucca Mountain project.
If you liked George Bush, who made the decision to make Yucca Mountain the nation’s high-level nuclear waste dump, just 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, then you’ll love McCain.
McCain can be counted on to tout his enthusiastic support for nuclear power and, with it, his gung-ho support for the Yucca Mountain project. He has voted for it previously and has supported it wholeheartedly on the campaign trail.
In contrast, Obama is opposed to Yucca Mountain — he doesn’t believe it is either safe or smart — and that opposition is critical now. The next president may be the only person who can stop the radioactive trucks and trains from coming to Nevada.
Last, it also is instructive how both Obama and McCain have run their campaigns. McCain has been erratic while Obama has displayed a cool confidence despite the McCain campaign’s efforts to rattle him with over-the-top negative attacks.
With respect to being erratic, last month McCain decided to temporarily suspend his campaign and go back to Washington, ostensibly to help bring about a compromise on a financial bailout bill Congress was working on.
All that did, however, was increase the partisan divisions on the legislation and help lead House Republicans to derail the budding compromise. It wasn’t until after McCain left Washington, and took his traveling circus with him, that Congress was able to fashion an agreement with the president. In many ways, McCain’s failed stunt came to symbolize his campaign.
As Americans consider who should be the next president, it is clear that we are at a crossroads. Americans are looking for someone who not only has a steady hand and is a consensus builder, but who also is a strong leader and who has faith in the greatness of what our nation has to offer even in these most trying of times. We believe that man is Barack Obama.
The Las Vegas Sun endorses Barack Obama.