The two nominees: What we know

Now that the conventions are over, a 60 day sprint to the general election for president remains. The conventions were alternately interesting, boring, predictable and downright electrifying -- embodying all that is compelling about American politics. It was great theater. But now it's time for substance, because this is really the most important job interview in the world. The seriousness of this endeavor should be obvious to anyone paying attention since 9/11/2001, and has been compounded further by $4 gasoline, a banking and mortgage mess and a general slowdown in the economy.

The choice we make in November -- particularly in light of a certain Democrat majority in both houses of Congress -- will be extremely critical to the future of the country. While every four years we hear "this is the most important election in memory" -- this really is.

So it is time to get serious. And in that vein, I'd like you to consider the following:

This election will be about more than character and experience -- but it is important to keep in mind that in a president, character counts more than almost anything else. Though Barack Obama's acceptance speech in Denver was full of "I will save the country" promises, the reality is that in our system of shared powers, the president can't work miracles. He's part of a complex dance with the House, Senate and Judiciary. Where the president's decisions alone matter most is in his role as Commander in Chief. Most everything else requires at least some advice, consent or legislation from the Congress.

A good example of the importance of presidential character and judgment is Harry Truman: when he became president in 1945 the only real tools he brought to the job were his good instincts, his basic values and a strong sense of right and wrong. He also brought to bear a strong ethic of public service, which enabled him to avoid the temptations of personal enrichment that ensnare so many in government. The president must have a solid sense of ethics and a well-defined moral code to be successful. It is far more important than any policy prescription -- especially in times of crisis.

On this score the choice is clear. As we saw last night in his speech to the RNC, and as we know from his well-documented bio, John McCain's life has been about public service. He's the personification of courage in so many ways -- a man who has give so much to his country, and understands that the first and last job of holding public office is serving the people -- not himself. Moreover, in a lifetime of being in the public eye, his values, character and judgment are well documented and proven. He's been right more often than he's been wrong, and he has the internal compass and fortitude to stand up to criticism from within his own party -- which he has often been subject to. He's not right on all the issues, but we know who he is and what he stands for.

And what of Barack Obama? He's obviously smart and well spoken. But we really don't know anything about him. Where are his good friends who will vouch for him? His classmates at Harvard who know his background and character? The Obama campaign has been designed to hide the real Obama, by being a carefully controlled, crafted and scripted program that has shielded him from questions about his past.

In the one setting where he took direct questions -- at the Saddleback Church debate with Rick Warren -- his answers were unclear, vague and indecisive. One gets the very real sense that we don't know what he thinks because he doesn't know what he thinks. We don't know why he wants to be president -- except that he wants to "change" America. We don't know how, or why, or what change that is, however. He thinks (and his wife obviously also believes) that America is somehow "broken". But how will he "fix" it?

What we do know about Barack Obama is that on the few issues where he has taken a stand, his judgment has been poor. Here's a sampling:

** We don't know much about Obama's background, but we do know that he and his family attended a a racist and anti-American church for 20 years. We know that the pastor, Jeremiah Wright, married Obama and his wife Michelle and baptized his two children. We know that Obama stood behind Wright until the pastor's comments made it politically untenable, and then (and only then) did he move to distance himself.

** We know that Michelle Obama wrote a thesis at Princeton that promoted black seperatism as a worthy goal and who said 'There was no doubt in my mind that as a member of the black community, I am obligated to this community and will utilize all of my present and future resources to benefit the black community first and foremost."

** We know that Obama has had a relationship for the past decade with William Ayres, a noted 1960s radical and unrepentant member of the Weather Underground terrorist group. We know that Obama has been to Ayres home and that they sat on the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge together (read more about it here: Obama Needs to Explain his Ties to William Ayers ). As Michael Barone reports:

    Ayers was one of the original grantees of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a school reform organization in the 1990s, and was cochairman of the Chicago School Reform Collaborative, one the two operational arms of the CAC. Obama, then not yet a state senator, became chairman of the CAC in 1995.

    Later in that year, the first organizing meeting for Obama's state Senate campaign was held in Ayers's apartment. Ayers later wrote a memoir, and an article about him appeared in the New York Times on Sept. 11, 2001. "I don't regret setting bombs," Ayers is quoted as saying. "I feel we didn't do enough."Ayers was a terrorist in the late 1960s and 1970s whose radical group set bombs at the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol.

** We know also that Obama has a relationship with convicted felon Tony Rezko, who was involved in a shady deal to help Obama purchase his home in Hyde Park, Chicago.

** We know that on the issue of welfare reform, Obama took a position in the Illinois State Senate that he was against it -- fearing (as most liberals did) that it would force people off the rolls and onto the streets. Bill Clinton, to his great credit, pushed the Democrats to support it 1996 and it has been an unprecedented success. Obama admits now that he made a mistake in opposing it -- but it shows that he fundamentally misunderstands human nature: when people have the right incentives, they are capable of providing for themselves. But Obama's judgment is mired in the victimization mantra of the left.

** We know that Obama has been wrong on Iraq. He will claim his judgment about the war itself in 2003 was right, and that he opposed the war from the beginning. But Obama didn't have a vote on it, and it was relatively risk free for him to take that position. And, in any event, his claim that he was right on the war because he opposed it -- because it has been a "failure" -- is not at all a given. We don't know what the long-term results of the fall of Saddam Hussein will be, but if the current events are a sign of things to come, history may very well judge the war in Iraq as a success.

** With certainty, however, we know that he opposed the surge and wanted to remove U.S. troops staring in January 2007. That would have resulted in chaos and the destruction of the nascent Iraqi state, and provide a vital victory for Al Qaeda and the insurgency. It would have been a disaster for American interests, providing Iran with access to one of the largest supplies of oil on earth. Obama can't even admit that he was wrong on the surge -- and has said repeatedly that he would oppose it all over again, even knowing what he knows now.

** We know that Obama's domestic policies on virtually everything -- from taxes to healthcare -- put him on the wrong side of history. We know from our own experiences and the record now in Europe that high taxes on corporations and investments impede economic growth. Obama's plans to raise corporate, dividend and estate taxes are precisely opposite of what the growing economies of the world are doing. His polices on healthcare expand the role of government and place draconian requirements on small and medium sized businesses -- the very engine of growth in our economy. His energy policy is one that is based on extensive government investment in alternative energy technology -- but largely at the expense of current oil supplies that are needed to drive prices down.

** In fact, Obama is on record as believing that higher gas prices are acceptable as a way of forcing conservation. He doesn't seem to care if we pay more at the pump if it facilitates his goals of saving the planet from global warming. In an interview with NBC News in June, Obama said this:

When asked by Harwood if higher gas prices were an incentive to shift to alternative means of energy, Obama said the U.S. has "been slow to move in a better direction when it comes to energy usage." When Harwood followed up and asked if the higher prices then could actually help, Obama responded this way: "I think that I would have preferred a gradual adjustment.

The fact that this is such a shock to American pocketbooks is not a good thing. But if we take some steps right now to help people make the adjustment, first of all by putting more money into their pockets, but also by encouraging the market to adapt to these new circumstances more quickly, particularly U.S. automakers, then I think ultimately, we can come out of this stronger and have a more efficient energy policy than we do right now."

The goal of lower emissions and reducing greenhouse gasses is a good one -- but doing it in a way that punishes those who can least afford it is not the way to go.

**************** If you want change, voting for Obama/Biden is not the way to go. If you want to shake up Washington, sending Obama and Joe Biden and his 36 years in the U.S. Senate -- to conspire with a Democrat Congress is not the way to go. Obama and Biden will only expand government in line with special interests -- teacher's unions, environmentalists, trial lawyers and all the usual suspects.

John McCain, however, has a record of opposing special interests -- of both parties. He will be a thorn in the side of Pelosi and Reid and serve as a needed check and balance to one-party rule. He will compromise when needed to advance the public good, but he will be a strong advocate of responsible government that will be sorely needed with the Democrat's in control of Congress.

We have a simple choice to make the election: between a man with a solid, known track-record of courage and compromise, and a man with almost no record to speak of. It's a choice between someone who has the right motivations for seeking the presidency, and a man who's background leaves many questions unanswered.

This is no time to take a flier on Barak Obama.