Primary picks: Obama, McCain

No matter who wins the presidential primaries, voters will have a clear choice in November between the two major-party candidates.

The three leading Democratic candidates—Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards—differ less on policy issues than they do in style and emphasis. Clinton touts her experience and management skills, Obama his ability to inspire people and bring them together, and Edwards his willingness to fight for the poor and middle class.

At this point, Clinton and Obama are clearly the front-runners. If either of them is the nominee, he or she will make history as the first woman or African American to become president. That in itself is hugely significant.

But there is a crucial difference between them. The experience Clinton touts is also the source of the baggage she brings with her. For many reasons, some unfair and some of her and Bill Clinton’s own making, she has become one of the most polarizing figures in American politics. She also has become a battle-scarred political infighter willing to twist and distort to gain advantage, as she has shown during this campaign.

Obama, on the other hand, offers something refreshingly new and welcome to American politics, especially after seven years of the Bush administration: the ability to appeal to people’s strengths and hopes, not their fears, and to motivate them to become involved in creating a country and government that once again have the respect of the world.

His considerable experience as a community organizer, civil-rights lawyer, constitutional law professor, Illinois state senator and now U.S. senator, along with his remarkable personal history and extraordinary communication skills, add up to someone uniquely qualified to reach out across partisan lines and chart a new course for America.

Among the viable Republican candidates, John McCain is the best choice. On several issues—immigration, global warming and trade among them—he is as good as any candidate, Republican or Democratic, and can be expected to work closely with Democrats to move forward.

He’s shown skepticism toward President Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy and consistently fought to expose wasteful, pork-barrel spending. He’s long championed campaign-finance reform. As a former POW, he understands that torture is unworthy of America, and has pledged never to use it and to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay.

The biggest issue on which McCain disagrees with the leading Democratic candidates is Iraq. He believes the United States should stay there for “as long as it takes to win.” We don’t believe that military victory is possible or that this country can afford to occupy the country indefinitely. The future of Iraq must be put in Iraqi hands.

Ron Paul is the lone GOP candidate opposed to the occupation, but some of his other positions concern us. (Eliminate the Fed and go on the gold standard—really?!?) Among the contenders in consensus on Iraq, McCain has been the most honest and unwavering proponent, so he’s the Republican with whom we’re the most comfortable agreeing to disagree.