When the 21st century began, America was still widely regarded and well respected as the international economic leader, defender of oppressed nations, moral leader of the world. That was before 9-11, the war on terror, an adventurous invasion and poorly planned occupation of Iraq and the collapse of major financial institutions here and around the globe.
A presidency that began with the practical promise of compassionate conservatism is lumbering to its ignominious end after a series of scalding revelations that too often have shown indifference to the environment, disregard for the plight of the poor and insufficient respect for the high ideals that made America different in the 20th century.
Against that backdrop, this year's presidential election offers a choice like no other in memory: John McCain, a decorated veteran who survived five years as a prisoner of war before forging an admirable record of bipartisanship in the U.S. Senate for nearly three decades; or Barack Obama, a young, thoughtful, inspirational speaker who has attracted millions of Americans back to the electoral process with his message of transformational change and bright hope for the future.
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