The following editorial appears in Sunday editions of The Miami Herald
With 90 percent of Americans telling pollsters that the nation is heading in the wrong direction, it is no surprise that both Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain have staked their presidential candidacies on the promise of delivering change. Both have qualities that qualify them to lead the country, but they differ significantly in temperament and on many issues. Even the way they have run their campaigns is indicative of their judgment, decision-making and leadership styles.
When he began his campaign in February of 2007, Sen. Obama was viewed as an upstart. He built his candidacy one victory at a time, aided by an excellent campaign staff and fueled by an impressive ability to raise funds on the Internet. He displayed inspiring eloquence and a sure grasp of detail on issues. Voters of all races and ages were drawn to his promise to discard the culture wars and seek pragmatic solutions for problems instead of relying on ideology and worn-out slogans.
Foreign policy differences
Sen. McCain also showed strength in the primaries. Deemed political roadkill at one time, he revived his fortunes with a strong showing in New Hampshire and clinched victory in Florida with straight talk and a surer feel for what voters wanted. A turning point came during the Republican convention, when he chose a long-shot for a running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, out of an apparent need to appease the right wing of the party. For all of her rhetorical skills on the campaign trail -- particularly in the attack mode -- Gov. Palin appears to know little about the issues and simply is not qualified to be commander in chief.
Much has been made of Sen. Obama's relative inexperience, particularly in foreign policy. His résumé is thin, but he surrounds himself with experienced advisors -- as evidenced in his choice of Sen. Joe Biden to be vice president -- and with people who offer differing points of view. His style is to build consensus and seek workable, pragmatic solutions -- a refreshing change from the last eight years.
Because of the current administration's incompetence, arrogance -- or both -- American prestige abroad has never been as low. The effusive response from audiences during Sen. Obama's recent tour of Europe suggests he could help restore our lost influence. Clearly, traditional U.S. allies are more than ready to work with an American president who replaces unilateral policies and preemptive wars with vigorous diplomacy on behalf of common interests.
Sen. McCain has much experience in foreign policy and a hero's life story dating back to his days as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. An avid supporter of the war in Iraq, Sen. McCain was among the first to call for more troops. He draws strength from the success of the ''surge.'' Today, though, Iraq is stable, but the war itself remains a huge and costly error. The invasion was a strategic mistake; the surge a tactical success.
Sen. Obama's early dissent amid the war fever of 2002-03 took courage. It reflects a clear-eyed appreciation for the proper use of U.S firepower and a cool temperament that rejects employing military force except as a last, necessary resort. His insistence that U.S. power be focused on the conflict in Afghanistan -- which he rightly calls the central front of the war on terror -- represents a better, more effective use of military resources.
Sen. McCain has long been an outspoken supporter of Israel, and so has Sen. Biden, whose selection as a running mate for Sen. Obama should erase any doubts about where the Illinois senator stands on this important issue.
Closer to home, Sen. McCain strongly supports Bush administration policies on Cuba. Sen. Obama also supports the embargo, but would be more likely to dissolve recently imposed restraints on travel and remittances to Cuba. On Latin America, the biggest concern with Mr. Obama's policies involves his failure to support the Colombia free-trade pact, which Sen. McCain champions. Anti-trade rhetoric and protectionist policies are not going to help the United States overcome the current economic crisis.
That crisis overshadows all other concerns, domestic and foreign. Sen. Obama deserves credit for supporting the administration's rescue package instead of siding with some Democrats who draped themselves in the mantle of Main Street populism and refused to go along. Well before this crisis developed, he called for regulatory reform and demonstrated a clear sense that the economy was headed over a cliff.
A clear choice
Indeed, the way the two candidates responded to the economic meltdown offers a lesson in contrasting styles of leadership. Both have put forth a series of worthwhile policy options, but where Sen. Obama was calm, Sen. McCain was frantic. He first put his campaign ''on hold'' and suggested he would cancel the first debate, and then suddenly decided to take part even as the first bailout deal cratered. He said the fundamentals of the economy were strong, then a few days later vowed to ''name the names'' of those responsible for the financial crisis.
In other elections, voters have complained of having to make a choice between two bad candidates. That is not the case this time. The nation is fortunate to have good candidates and a clear choice. Sen. Obama represents the best chance for America to make a clean break with the culture wars and failed policies of the past, and begin to restore the hope and promise of America as the world's greatest democracy.