So it is between two big parties, with long, distinguished and not so distinguished histories. Few now see in the Democratic Party the party of Thomas Jefferson, or indeed the party of southern segregation which it was until Lyndon Johnson turned his back on all that. Few African Americans probably know the Republicans freed the slaves, because it was the Democrats that bravely confronted segregation in the 1960s and handed over a core constituency to the Republicans - the south.
In a world of asinine urges to split arguments into two - it is all too easy for the media and the public to paint both major US parties as miles apart, as representing two very different visions of the future. In truth both are very broad churches. The stereotype of the Democrats being the party of social liberalism and secularism is as inaccurate as saying the Republicans are conservative evangelicals. Both are right and wrong. Both are full of people who despise freedom, and reject science. It's just that the Democrats will prefer this on economic matters, and reject science on the environment, whereas Republicans prefer regulating social matters, and reject science on education and ethical issues. Generally speaking.
So what of Barack Obama and John McCain?
Barack Obama has inspired millions, a good part of that is because of race. Few can deny the importance that having a major party Presidential candidate who is part African American shows how far the USA has come in a couple of generations. That will, understandably, motivate almost all African-Americans to vote for him, but beyond that there is little positive to vote for. Obama has been propelled to where he is because he has star qualities. He looks good, he speaks good, what he says isn't important except you hear the same words again "change", "bring together", "new beginning". He talks about a different politics, but nothing he sells is different. He's a leftwing Democrat who has never steered away from that course. That none of this has had more than cursory attention from the bulk of the US media is scandalous. If John McCain had spent time promoting ultranationalist causes, there is little doubt it would have been an issue.
Obama's foreign policy is essentially to talk to everyone, and focus on Afghanistan rather than Iraq. He'll be liked internationally and he'll be tested, by the enemies of the USA, and that will be the supreme test - to see if he hesitates or can be decisive to take military action when required. Obama's domestic policy is also nothing new. Tax cuts for many, tax hikes for "the rich", he wants to grow the Federal Government with umpteen new spending promises and to radically reform health care. He offers the status quo on social security and education. He has a consistent record of supporting "pork barrel" subsidies and programmes.
Change you can believe in? Hardly.
Obama's chief campaign message has been change, it doesn't look like anything not tried before. Obama has also campaigned blaming the economic crisis on the Bush Administration, which he must know is a lie - as the conditions for the crisis go well beyond Bush. That's the old politics that Obama happily taps into, with little criticism from the media.
You see Obama is Hollywood, and the USA loves Hollywood.
McCain is an old hand, he had the potential to really mean change. He was right about the surge in Iraq, and he could do the same in Afghanistan. He believes in fiscal prudence, cutting spending, opposing any "pork" and cutting taxes. He believes in free trade, critical at this time of global recession, and he doesn't think the answer to every problem is government. Obama is friendlier towards government being the solution.
However McCain has done appallingly for several reasons. He has tried to throw dirt at Obama when the media wouldn't play ball, although some of the dirt is well worth looking into (Jeremiah Wright). He has made umpteen blunders in front of the camera and has not sold himself on a confident platform of less government. Worst of all he failed to differentiate himself from the White House financial bailout plan, which would have given him leverage and credentials on small government and opposing "pork". He played a card, that the party pressured him into, by accepting Sarah Palin as his running mate, which scared a majority of voters away. Palin is feisty and curious, but her ignorance is palpable. She'll fire up some on the religious right, many who she will fire up match her ignorance, most opposing her see a woman who shouldn't be near the White House. She was, on balance, a wrong move - because she performed so badly. McCain is now fighting back, with great difficulty. The damage has been done. McCain has sought to fire up the Republican base - which is as banal as ever. This isn't the real McCain, it is sad that he has had to resort to this, instead of attacking Obama in the centre battleground.
As a libertarian, both major parties turn me away. The Democrats are the repositary of the left, and the environmentalist movements in the US. I've seen how appallingly they have misgoverned cities, and spread the envy message throughout the country. They have played the xenophobic card, differently from Republicans. They think government is the solution and they listen, too intently, to the pseudo science of the environmentalist movement, and the identity politics of the left. They continue to oppose school choice. The Republicans are a true conservative party, containing far more bigoted banal Christian halfwits than the Democrats - the type who think the planet is a few thousand years old, that Darwin was wrong and few things should get you more worked up than a homosexual (!). They happily censor away, and like to treat non-Christians with suspicion and science if it is to interfere with their literal interpretation of the Bible. The Republicans do have a liberal small government side, but sadly it isn't dominant.
Both being defeated would please me, but for now one has to win.
On foreign policy it is a closer run race than it was some months ago. Obama has stopped talking about withdrawing from Iraq quickly, and has moderated his speech about talking to the enemies of the USA. Biden strengthens Obama's ticket on foreign policy. Palin weaken's McCain's. McCain would be comforting on foreign policy and a strong advocate for a new open trade round at the WTO. That could help spur on global recovery, something I see Obama being far less enthusiatic about. McCain after all votes against protectionism and subsidies, Obama has voted for them. On security matters, Israel would feel more comfortable with McCain, but I don't doubt the rest of the world would embrace him, they would see a USA willing to compromise - which on too many things would be unthinkably wrong.
On domestic policy Obama wants big government, McCain has always wanted less before, but who knows now.
The worst that can happen under McCain is that he passes away and Palin becomes President, a scary thought. However, beyond that McCain may simply spend his term vetoing budgets because the Democrats keep trying on new spending.
The worst that can happen under Obama is that he negotiates away Iraq, forces Israel to batten down the hatches with less support, and dramatically grows the federal government - FDR style. He isolates the USA with trade protectionism, and directs the economy.
For McCain the best that can be said is similar to Lindsay Perigo's comment that voting for McCain is about opposing Obama as it:
"may buy the country some time: time to reverse its slide into a European-style 'social democracy' - i.e., full-blown collectivist tyranny based on the airheaded consent of the tyrannized. For that to happen, not just Senator McCain and Governor Palin but millions more Americans need to snap out of their addled airhead postmodern stupor and acquaint themselves with Ayn Rand"
Some think it is better to smash and punish the Republicans because of much incompetence since 2000. I can empathise with that view, but I believe it is mistaken - the world needs decisiveness on foreign policy, a free trade President and a President who will say no to more government spending. That is NOT Barack Obama, and it might just be John McCain. McCain will prove to Republicans that they can win if they choose a moderately liberal supporter of less government. It will prove to Democrats that an agenda of more government is not enough to win. However it is more than that.
The USA deserves better than a man winning the Presidency because he is a star. Obama's celebrity status may say that an African-American could be elected President, but it also says that style wins over substance. Few who support Obama are likely to be able to say what "change" he will bring. Few have really put Obama's policies under the spotlight, few have asked him serious questions about his inconsistencies, and how he thinks spending taxpayers' children's taxes will help. It is truly the "airhead" politics as Perigo describes them - where choosing a radical leftwing pastor was dismissed as being a mistake, as if it didn't reflect on Obama's philosophy. Where a campaign of pure banality is treated as being some great revolution.
That is why Americans should reject Obama/Biden in favour of McCain/Palin. John McCain has made many mistakes, he has floundered and disappointed, almost painfully his campaign has been an appalling series of mistakes. Sarah Palin may be one of his biggest ones. However, he is, for now, the safer pair of hands compared to Obama. John McCain wont be a great President, but he would be one who could contain a Democrat led Congress, who could be a competent Commander in Chief, and would not seek government solutions to every problem. He could lead a new WTO round with some significant liberalisation from the USA to kickstart the global economy. He could be a change.
I know an Obama loss might trouble millions, and may even spark anger from disappointment, but that is not a reason to vote for him. Whoever wins the Presidency has to handle Al Qaeda, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea, all decisively, I'll pick the man of experience over the man of slogans. As much as McCain's campaigning appalls, as much as Sarah Palin grates, and as much as McCain has looked tired, and his approach to the financial crisis wrong, he is the better choice. A vote for a McCain is a vote for the less government option, and a vote against the anointed believer in wealth redistribution, massive growth in the federal government and a campaign of banality.