Sunday editorial: Barack Obama for president
By Editorial Board
Nine Days before the Feb. 5 presidential primaries in Missouri and Illinois, this editorial page endorsed Barack Obama and John McCain in their respective races.
We did so enthusiastically. We wrote that either Mr. Obama’s message of hope or Mr. McCain’s independence and integrity offered America “the chance to turn the page on 28 years of contentious, greed-driven politics and move into a new era of possibility.”
Over the past nine months, Mr. Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, has emerged as the only truly transformative candidate in the race. In the crucible that is a presidential campaign, his intellect, his temperament and equanimity under pressure consistently have been impressive. He has surrounded himself with smart, capable advisers who have helped him refine thorough, nuanced policy positions.
In a word, Mr. Obama has been presidential.
Meanwhile, Mr. McCain, the senior senator from Arizona, became the incredible shrinking man. He shrank from his principled stands in favor of a humane immigration policy. He shrank from his universal condemnation of torture and his condemnation of the politics of smear.
He even shrank from his own campaign slogan, “County First,” by selecting the least qualified running mate since the Swedenborgian shipbuilder Arthur Sewall ran as William Jennings Bryan’s No. 2 in 1896.
In making political endorsements, this editorial page is guided first by the principles espoused by Joseph Pulitzer in The Post-Dispatch Platform printed daily at the top of this page. Then we consider questions of character, life experience and intellect, as well as specific policy and issue positions. Each member of the editorial board weighs in.
On all counts, the consensus was clear: Barack Obama of Illinois should be the next president of the United States.
We didn’t know nine months ago that before Election Day, America would face its greatest economic challenge since the Great Depression. The crisis on Wall Street is devastating, but it has offered voters a useful preview of how the two presidential candidates would respond to a crisis.
Very early on, Mr. Obama reached out to his impressive corps of economic advisers and developed a comprehensive set of recommendations for addressing the problems. He set them forth calmly and explained them carefully.
Mr. McCain, a longtime critic of government regulation, was late to recognize the threat. The chief economic adviser of his campaign initially was former Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, who had been one of the architects of banking deregulation. When the credit markets imploded, Mr. McCain lurched from one ineffectual grandstand play to another. He squandered the one clear advantage he had over Mr. Obama: experience.
Mr. McCain first was elected to Congress in 1982 when Mr. Obama was in his senior year at Columbia University. Yet the younger man’s intellectual curiosity and capacity — and, yes, also the skills he developed as a community organizer and his instincts as a political conciliator — more than compensate for his lack of more traditional Washington experience.
A presidency is defined less by what happens in the Oval Office than by what is done by the more than 3,000 men and women the president appoints to government office. Only 600 of them are subject to Senate approval. The rest serve at the pleasure of the president.
We have little doubt that Mr. Obama’s appointees would bring a level of competence, compassion and intellectual achievement to the executive branch that hasn’t been seen since the New Frontier. He has energized a new generation of Americans who would put the concept of service back in “public service.”
Consider that while Mr. McCain selected as his running mate Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, a callow and shrill partisan, Mr. Obama selected Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware. Mr. Biden’s 35-year Senate career has given him encyclopedic expertise on legislative and judicial issues, as well as foreign affairs.
The idea that 3,000 bright, dedicated and accomplished Americans would be joining the Obama administration to serve the public — as opposed to padding their resumés or shilling for the corporate interests they’re sworn to oversee — is reassuring. That they would be serving a president who actually would listen to them is staggering.
And the fact that Mr. Obama can explain his thoughts and policies in language that can instruct and inspire is exciting. Eloquence isn’t everything in a president, but it is not nothing, either.
Experience aside, the 25-year difference in the ages of Mr. McCain, 72, and Mr. Obama, 47, is important largely because Mr. Obama’s election would represent a generational shift. He would be the first chief executive in more than six decades whose worldview was not formed, at least in part, by the Cold War or Vietnam.
He sees the complicated world as it is today, not as a binary division between us and them, but as a kaleidoscope of shifting alliances and interests. As he often notes, he is the son of a Kenyan father and a mother from Kansas, an internationalist who yet acknowledges that America is the only nation in the world in which someone of his distinctly modest background could rise as far as his talent, intellect and hard work would take him.
Given the damage that has been done to America’s moral standing in the world in the last eight years — by a preemptory war, a unilateralist foreign policy and by policies that have treated both the Geneva Conventions and our own Bill of Rights as optional — Mr. Obama’s election would help America reclaim the moral high ground.
It also must be said that Mr. Obama is right on the issues. He was right on the war in Iraq. He is right that all Americans deserve access to health care and right in his pragmatic approach to meeting that goal. He is right on tax policy, infrastructure investment, energy policy and environmental issues. He is right on American ideals.
He was right when he said in his remarkable speech in March in Philadelphia that “In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand: that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.”
John McCain has served his country well, but in the end, he may have wanted the presidency a little too much, so much that he has sacrificed some of the principles that made him a heroic figure in war and in peace. In every way possible, he has earned the right to retire.
Finally, only at this late point do we note that Barack Obama is an African-American. Because of who he is and how he has run his campaign, that fact has become almost incidental to most Americans. Instead, his countrymen are weighing his talents, his values and his beliefs, judging him not by the color of his skin, but the content of his character.
That says something profound and good — about him as a candidate and about us as a nation.