I'd probably think the country needs to elect a Democratic president even with a normal election with the usual candidates and under the usual conditions. But the clarity and importance of the choice are deepened by the ways in which this is not a normal choice to be made under normal conditions.
One thing that makes this election different, in my view, is Barack Obama. I see him as an extraordinary figure, potentially a transformative president. Possibly even a great president. I would bet strongly that as impressive as he's been as a candidate, he will be even better as a president: his humane values, his capacity to find highly capable people and to seek and understand good ideas, his ability to communicate and to move people, his deep discipline, his deliberate and careful way of proceeding, his ability to create an effective organization and follow sound strategies-- all these could combine to provide a deeply damaged nation the kind of leadership it so badly needs.
That would be reason enough to care deeply about the outcome of this election.
On the other hand, if this were the year 2000, and if the alternative to the Democrat were John McCain as I perceived him at that time as he sought the presidency in the Republican primaries, I would not would not regard his election as such terrible news for America.
But it is not 2000, and the John McCain who would become president next January does not appear to me as he did more than eight years ago.
First, this nation has now gone through one of the greatest crises in its history-- right up there with the Civil War, the Great Depression, and World War II. And unlike those other great crises, this one has been a crisis of a rising tyranny at home, a crisis of the very sort our Founders were most concerned about. And this threat to our basic constitutional system of government --this rise to power of dark forces-- occurred through the channel of the Republican Party. The Republican Party became willing accomplices to an assault on the rule of law, and has still not repudiated its disgraceful role in this dark era of our history.
That alone --the fact that the Republican Party has in no way repented of its complicity in a lawless, usurpatious and amoral regime-- would suffice to make it absolutely vital that the American electorate reject that party's presidential candidate this year. Even if their nominee were a sterling fellow, it would be important to repudiate the Republican Party in protest of the disgrace it has become.
But then, a sterling fellow probably could not get the Republican nomination, precisely because of the disgrace the party has become. And that brings us back to the John McCain of now.
In order to get the Republican nomination, John McCain has made a pact with the devil. Beginning in 2004, he showed himself fully willing to embrace the evil he surely recognized for what it was. I first wrote about McCain's selling his soul in the service of his ambition back in June, 2006 (in "John McCain as Western Hero: Senator, You're No John Wayne" at <a href="
<blockquote>At a crucial moment in American history –the campaign of 2004—this man chose ambition over principal. He knew full well what kind of regime this is. He was a victim of their character assassination. But he went and kissed Bush’s ring, giving him a non-trivial boost toward re-election, because he wanted to keep his hopes to become president alive.
[W]hen the chips were down, when the course of American history might have been affected by how McCain used his credibility with the American people, McCain lent that credibility to help renew this gangster regime. And now he goes around kissing the rings of those who created this regime, and whose support he wants in 2008.</blockquote>
Nothing that has happened since has altered that picture: the man sold his soul for the kingship right before our very eyes.
Indeed, since securing the nomination, McCain has only demonstrated more completely his willingness to embrace the forces of darkness in order to achieve the power he seeks. In his campaign he has enlisted the same dishonest and destructive and debasing tactics that the Bushite forces used against him, and with which they've since contaminated the whole of the American political process. He's hired the same people who corrupted American public discourse during this dark time.
Anyone who cared about America's profound need for moral renewal in the realm of power, anyone who was genuinely devoted to the good, could never wield those destructive political weapons at this time. Not after seeing them degrade and damage our country so deeply. Anyone who truly cared about the soul of America could never choose to play on fears, could never indulge in dishonest character assassination, could never seek to win by dividing the nation into an "Us" who are good against a "Them" that are evil. (Could never choose to put a Sarah Palin within the heartbeat of a man in his 70s of becoming president.)
That John McCain did so tells us all we need to know about what John McCain cares about, and what he doesn't.
So, with all this on display before us, anyone with eyes to see and a functioning moral compass must recognize what's at stake in this presidential election. One might say that what is at stake is not only the fate and destiny of America, but its very soul.