Opinion

Fort Worth Star-Telegram joins newspapers backing Obama

The following editorial endorsing Barack Obama appeared Sunday in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Rare is the moment when it’s clear that, regardless of the outcome of an election, you are living history.

Yet with all that is unique and unprecedented about the 2008 presidential election, students of U.S. history can’t shake the undeniable feeling that America has been here before.

In 1932, and 1960. 1980. 1992.

Each of those years marked a crucial turning point in the direction the nation took, a turning point triggered by the choice the American people made when they went to the polls.

In 1932, during a crippling economic disaster, the familiar was rejected when the people elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In 1960, youth, vitality and enthusiastic optimism took the day when the people elected John F. Kennedy over a dour, humorless Richard Nixon.

In 1980, after a humiliating hostage-siege by student radicals inside a U.S. embassy in a place so foreign that most Americans couldn’t find it on a map, the populace embraced an actor-turned-governor who promised to restore the country to world respect and prominence. The people elected Ronald Reagan.

In 1992, the nation faced many of the same challenges besetting us now. A teetering economy rocked by layoffs and rising prices had Americans clamoring for job creation, reforms in savings and investment, and less disparity between worker and CEO pay. America needed a new mindset and fresh leadership to move forward. The people elected Bill Clinton.

Today, the American people aren't just asking for change; they are demanding it.

The economic inequities are no longer tolerable. As remarkable as it is to say during a time when U.S. troops are actively engaged in wars on two fronts, Americans are looking for a visionary leader who will focus first on the daunting domestic financial crisis that has upended so many lives.

The nation has experienced the worst housing crisis since the Great Depression, an enormous stock-market plunge among the worst in history, record-high energy prices, and an ongoing war in Iraq that has exacted an agonizing cost in lives, dollars and international prestige.

Americans need new leadership.

For many of the same reasons that the Star-Telegram recommended Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992, it is recommending Democrat Barack Obama in 2008.

Obama provides the prescription for America’s ills at this moment: a fine, inquisitive intellect, paired with an eloquence that allows him to articulate a message with clarity and substance; an ability to inspire people of all ages, races and ethnicities who never before were engaged in the political process; and an unflappable temperament that allows him to weather a barrage of withering personal attacks.

Under his leadership, the Obama campaign has been amazingly disciplined, efficient and effective. Those same talents will be essential for the difficult work ahead to rebuild the nation’s faltering economic institutions and restore citizen confidence.

We could fill this page and then some with side-by-side comparisons of the specifics in each candidate’s platform, but history makes clear those will likely change as soon as the gavel hits wood at the start of the 111th U.S. Congress. Ours is a representative democracy, not a monarchy. Federal lawmakers, themselves duly elected representatives of the people, have their own lists of priorities. And changing events, both domestic and elsewhere in the world, have a way of shifting the direction in which our national leaders must focus their energies.

Just remember President George H.W. Bush’s ill-fated "Read my lips: No new taxes" pledge for painful evidence of how economic reality can derail campaign promises.

Obama’s tax policy, which calls for restoring higher tax brackets that affect people earning more than $250,000 a year, could crater when it collides with the reality of Republican lawmakers.

Since the political parties’ national conventions, much has been made of the candidates’ vice presidential picks. While it is Obama and McCain who are competing for the highest honor that the American people can bestow on a fellow citizen, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin are relevant as measures of the candidates’ judgment.

Obama picked a seasoned veteran, a Delaware senator who has distinguished himself as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations and Judiciary committees. A moderate on foreign policy, Biden brings experience and an extensive network of international contacts, a definite boost in an arena where the Illinois senator needs an assist. Biden often been a leader on issues, from aid to former Soviet states in the early 1990s to U.S. involvement in the Balkans.

On the domestic front, Biden, 65, has worked extensively on crime and domestic violence issues, authoring the Violent Crime Control and Enforcement Act of 1994 and the Violence Against Women Act in 2000.

Obama’s "cautious and safe" selection of Biden may not have moved the polling needle, but it reflects Obama’s recognition that his own candidacy was daring enough in a nation so deeply divided.

McCain, 71, selected a woman who, without question, energized a Republican base that was underwhelmed with the man at the top of the ticket. Many conservatives, in their desire to back the Republican Party’s nominee, choose to forget that McCain was not their early favorite.

He was hammered in the early primaries for his support of humane immigration reform; his campaign-finance initiatives were vilified by those who consider the freedom to financially support political candidates a First Amendment right; and his commitment to balanced budgets meant he initially opposed extending President Bush’s tax cuts — a commitment McCain put aside when it became necessary to adopt the GOP’s tax-cut mantra as his own.

The Arizona senator quieted many of his early Republican critics by naming Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, 44, as his running mate. She ignited the base with "drill, baby, drill" speeches and unapologetic social conservatism, as evidenced by her pro-life, teach-creationism stands.

But that brilliant short-term tactic has proved a flawed long-term strategy. Palin’s once-captivating newness and tough-gal persona have given way to serious questions about her understanding of checks-and-balances governing on a national level. While she may be an entertaining master of the politician’s fine art of the memorable one-liner, she inspires little confidence in her readiness to be commander in chief.

Had McCain, whom we chose as the best Republican nominee in the primaries, selected a woman with more political and governing experience — someone like Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison or U.S. Rep. Kay Granger — it would have demonstrated better judgment and put more credence in his oft-repeated slogan of "Country first."

Of course, the 47-year-old Obama is often criticized for his own lack of experience, and it’s a fact that his governing résumé is not as long as we’d like for a new president.

But he has surrounded himself with talented and knowledgeable advisers from whom he draws counsel and historical context, people such as former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett.

And U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards of Texas, a nationally recognized veterans champion with strong military support and deep connections in the U.S. Army and at the Pentagon, was vetted as an Obama VP possibility.

Even Obama’s toughest detractors on the experience front must admit he has inspired thousands through his public speaking. At his best, he impresses with his clarity, intelligence and the ability to plainly explain sometimes-complicated policy proposals. His critics call it "airy-fairy silly rhetoric" and liken his appeal to "celebrity" fascination. But there’s substance there, and it goes beyond his ideas.

Fear drives domestic and foreign markets. Fear can ignite people and politicians to overreact — or paralyze them from acting.

Sadly, fear drives otherwise rational people to make irrational, even hurtful statements.

Obama isn’t afraid to articulate people’s fears and acknowledge their anxieties and then try to help them move beyond them. That was most evident in his speech on race, in which he spoke plainly about frustrations and resentments of both black and white Americans and called on them to look instead to common hopes in order to solve collective problems.

Those thinking and speaking skills, coupled with an unflappable demeanor, are the hallmarks of a deft diplomat who can not only stand on the world stage for the photo-op but also sit backstage, in close quarters, where the hard work takes place.

Good leaders know how to listen, negotiate and collaborate, and those only happen when people speak with each other. Obama offers a fresh approach to U.S. diplomacy after eight years of too much silence or, worse, verbal non-engagement.

John McCain’s love of country and passion for public service are indisputable. He can never be thanked enough for the suffering and sacrifice he endured on behalf of his fellow soldiers during his honorable and heroic military service.

In a different time and under different circumstances, he likely would have been our choice for president.

But 2008 is not his time.

There is no perfect presidential candidate. If fully funded, the policy proposals put forward by both candidates, with their unaffordable promises, would exacerbate the country’s already-outrageous budget deficits. Obama’s position on free trade is troubling, but what he’s saying on the stump in an attempt to garner labor votes in swing states is harsher than what has been articulated in his books. In a right-to-work-state like Texas, which plays a vital role in NAFTA’s economic space, political and business leaders are not interested in changing the free-trade agreement.

We remain unconvinced by the harsh and often hateful criticisms of Obama’s character and his motivation for seeking the White House. That’s fear talking, and it is unbecoming in a nation that professes to believe every child can achieve the dream of serving our country through elected office.

Barack Obama’s performance throughout this two-year presidential campaign has been extraordinary. He has never blown his cool under enormous pressure and vicious attacks. He has continued to speak of bringing our nation together to work for the "more perfect union" that our forefathers envisioned.

That is indicative of what Americans can and should expect of a commander in chief when the unexpected occurs — and it will occur.

The Star-Telegram recommends Barack Obama for president of the United States.

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