My conclusion comes after reading the candidates' memoirs and campaign platforms, attending both party conventions, interviewing both men multiple times, and watching all primary and general-election debates.
John McCain is an honorable man who has served his country well. But he will not get my vote. For the first time since registering as a Republican 28 years ago, I'm voting for a Democrat for president. I may have been an appointee in the George H.W. Bush administration, and master of ceremonies for George W. Bush in 2004, but last Saturday I stood amid the crowd at an Obama event in North Philadelphia.
Five considerations have moved me:
Terrorism. The candidates disagree as to where to prosecute the war against Islamic fundamentalists. Barack Obama is correct in saying the front line in that battle is not Iraq, it's the Afghan-Pakistan border. Osama bin Laden crossed that border from Tora Bora in December 2001, and we stopped pursuit. The Bush administration outsourced the hunt for bin Laden and instead invaded Iraq.
No one in Iraq caused the death of 3,000 Americans on 9/11. Our invasion was based on a false predicate, so we have no business being there, regardless of whether the surge is working. Our focus must be the tribal-ruled FATA region in Pakistan. Only recently has our military engaged al-Qaeda there in operations that mirror those Obama was ridiculed for recommending in August 2007.
Last spring, Obama told me: "It's not that I was opposed to war [in Iraq]. It's that I felt we had a war that we had not finished." Even Sen. Joe Lieberman conceded to me last Friday that "the headquarters of our opposition, our enemies today" is the FATA.
Economy. We face economic problems that are incomprehensible to most Americans, certainly they are to me. This is a time to covet intellect, and that begins at the top. Jack Bogle, the legendary founder of the Vanguard Group, told me recently that McCain's assertion that the fundamentals of the economy were "strong" was the "stupidest statement of 2008." In light of the unprecedented volatility in the market, who can dispute Bogle's characterization and the lack of understanding that McCain's assessment portends?
VP. I opined here that Sarah Palin demonstrated the capacity to be president in her speech to the Republican convention. Sadly, there has been no further exhibition of her abilities, and she remains an unknown quantity. We are left questioning the judgment of a candidate who bypassed his reported preferred choices, Lieberman and former Gov. Tom Ridge, and instead yielded to the whims of the periphery of his party. With two wars and a crumbling economy, Palin is too big of a risk to be a heartbeat away from a presidency held by a 72-year-old man who has battled melanoma. Advantage Joe Biden.
Opportunity. In a speech delivered on Father's Day, Obama lamented that too many fathers are missing from the lives of too many children and mothers. Look no further than Philadelphia for proof that the nation has a fatherhood problem at the root of its firearms crisis. And no demographic is affected by this confluence of factors like the black community. Among the many elements needed to address this crisis are role models, individuals whom urban youth can aspire to emulate. Little more than a year ago, Charles Barkley told me: "I want young black kids to see Barack on television every day. . . . We need to see more blacks who are intelligent, articulate, and who carry themselves with great dignity." Obama can be that man.
Hope. Wednesday morning will come and an Obama presidency holds the greatest chance for unifying us here at home and restoring our prestige around the globe. The campaigns have foretold the kind of presidency we can expect from each candidate. Last Friday in Lakeville, Minn., McCain himself had to explain to a supporter who was "scared" of an Obama presidency that those fears were unfounded. Another told McCain that Obama was untrustworthy because he is an "Arab." Those exchanges were a predictable byproduct of ads against Obama featuring tag lines such as "Too Risky for America" and "Dangerous," and a failure to rein in individuals at McCain events who highlighted Obama's middle name, all against a background of Internet lore.
Last Saturday at Progress Plaza, I heard Obama say: "The American people aren't looking for somebody to divide this country; the American people are looking for someone to lead this country."
This originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer
Follow Michael Smerconish on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@smerconish