The 2008 election is guaranteed to enjoy a special place in history. For the first time since 1825, when James Monroe left office after succeeding James Madison, the nation will have seen two presidents, William Clinton and George W. Bush, each complete eight consecutive years in office. Granted, Clinton had to endure impeachment, and Bush botched the challenge of Hurricane Katrina, bollixed the economy, subverted the constitution, and embroiled America in Iraq. Nevertheless, their contiguous tenures mark an unusual period of executive stability.
Throughout most of our history, assassination, scandal, and political upheavals have conspired to keep the occupancy of the Oval Office churning. Given this precedent, it is remarkable that this nation — the world’s oldest constitutional republic — has been so comparatively secure. Clearly, as the venerable saying goes, Providence looks after orphans, drunks, and the United States.
Also worth noting: for the first time since 1928, neither a sitting president nor his vice-president are seeking election. In other words, it has been 80 years since voters have made their choices on a relatively clean slate. Given the sinister influence of Vice-President Cheney, that is indeed providential.
The most historic developments of 2008, of course, are the candidacies of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. One way or another, the Democrats are poised to nominate either the first woman or the first African-American as a candidate for president.
As for the Republicans, their roster is not nearly so promising. John McCain’s plain talk is certainly a welcome relief from the Rovian lies and calculations of Bush-speak. But McCain’s gruff charm aside, his world view is as bellicose as Bush’s. As his recent comments have made frighteningly clear, McCain views the future as a series of inevitable wars for unstated ends. Mitt Romney is an empty suit and a shamelessly dishonest opportunist. Mike Huckabee is a Darwin-denying Bible thumper with a winning smile. Ron Paul has a disturbing racist past. And, by the time you read this, Rudy Giuliani will have exited the race and endorsed McCain.
There is no doubt that either Clinton or Obama would be superior to any of the Republicans. Elections, however, are about making a choice. When Democrats and Independents go to the polls next Tuesday in the so-called Super Tuesday contest, which is the closest approximation of a national primary our system has ever seen, the Phoenix urges a vote for Barack Obama.
Obama’s candidacy is not only about hope, not only about change. Most important of all, it is about the future.
Almost four years ago in Boston, Obama, then an Illinois state senator, electrified and inspired the Democratic convention as no national newcomer had done since 1948, when Hubert Humphrey championed the cause of civil rights.
Obama’s clarion call has been to reject the politics of confrontation and division as practiced by Bush, right-wingers, and talk-radio motor mouths.
His vision is of comity and common purpose. Eloquence is his calling card. It is penetrating, transcending verbal facility — the hallmark of someone at peace with himself, someone who is confident rather than cocksure.
Obama is also a maverick. There is no doubt that his promise outstrips his experience. That was also true of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson. Vision was their strength; rhetoric was their means to an end.
Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Wilson so successfully captured the spirit of their times — synthesizing the best, marginalizing the worst — that history remembers them as representative leaders: presidents who made a difference.
The Phoenix believes that Obama has the capacity to do so, too, in a way that Clinton — for all that is admirable about her — does not.
Obama comes to the political marketplace unencumbered by the bonds of dynasty. By voting for him on Tuesday, citizens are maximizing the opportunity to put the recent past behind them and to start anew.
There is a degree of uncertainty in all of this. Promise and progress are never risk free. But in matters of policy and program, the disparities between Obama and Clinton are so minimal as to be all but meaningless. The horse trading and compromise with Congress that would be necessary to enact either of their agendas further level the playing field.
For those still uncertain as to whether they will choose Obama or Clinton on Tuesday, consider this: when it came to the defining issue of the past several years, Iraq, Obama was right and Clinton was wrong. Clinton’s vision was clouded. Obama’s vision was clear.
If ever there were a need for clarity — of purpose and resolve — it is now. Society is atomized. The economy is shaky. And our international standing is compromised.
Together, Obama and Clinton — each in their own way, each according to their own talents and nature — have restored a sense of hope and promise to the progressively minded electorate. Women, African-Americans, Latinos, and people under 40 (especially younger voters) have been energized.
We believe that, come the final election in November, Barack Obama has the talent and temperament to consolidate this refreshing enthusiasm and energy, and to put the sorry Bush years behind us.
Vote for Obama as if history depends on it. America’s future certainly does.