The late Senator Barry Goldwater, announcing his presidential candidacy in 1964, said he would offer "a choice and not an echo." That's what we have again this year: two very different men from two very different traditions competing for the presidency.
John McCain, a career Navy man, son and grandson of admirals, hero (years in a Vietnamese prison camp attest to that), and a sometimes unorthodox politician. If he wins, we'll never have had a president quite like him. "A man more driven by...honor than ideology, predisposed to believe in his own virtue," Michael Gerson writes in the Washington Post. His personality has made him some enemies in the Senate, just as his candor made him many friends among reporters.
He likes the maverick label and on some issues--immigration, getting rid of earmarks (those little goodies for their districts Congressmen love to hide in major bills) he is one. On the other hand his economic policy reads like pretty standard GOP doctrine to me: continue the Bush tax cuts which mainly help the wealthy, tax breaks for industry, and so on.
And then Barack Obama. I've just finished his autobiography "Dreams from My Father." One thing immediately sets him apart from most of the politicians I've known: he's a terrific writer, really good. And of course the life story is extraordinary--Kenyan father, Kansas mother, early childhood in school in Indonesia. When have we ever had a president with a background like that? And how would the world react, after all the anti-Americanism this administration has produced, to seeing a person of color in the Oval Office. What effect would that have on our relations with countries in Asia and Africa? What effect would it have on race relations here at home?
Obama runs as the herald of some new centrism. But his voting record is much more traditional liberal. The journal Politico says that from 2005 to 2007 he voted with his party 97% of the time. Which way would he go as president? We have some months yet in which to explore that.
But what a treat! Two very different men with very different messages, but both men who'll get the voters fired up, enthusiastic. Or so I hope, anyway.