PARIS -- For Republicans, Democrats, or diehard Whigs, why is there even a question about the most crucial election the world has ever seen?
The simplest basics should be enough:
Suppose the Neighborhood Watch captain you twice elected empties your freezer, steals your HD TV, and burns down your garage because he says it shelters rats. You'd want a change.
In a real world far more complex than Wisteria Lane or Wasilla, neither the United States nor any other nation can risk four years of more-of-the-same McCain and his clueless sidekick.
Never mind who hates America. Imagine the anger of its best friends whose nest eggs are scrambled because of state-sheltered avarice and an always-more populace that fed it.
A dangerous new world is taking shape as voters quibble about trivia and neglect real news to comfort their prejudices with blogs.
Take Russia. When Nikita Khrushchev told Western leaders in 1956, "We will bury you," he did not mean literally. He meant history was on Russia's side.
Russia's raw capitalism is now the wet dream of America's early robber barons. Congress is rescuing private U.S. companies with what amounts to socialism. The roles have reversed.
Vladimir Putin snickers when America flaunts its moral example. The Cold War he threatens is not about nukes no one will use. He controls the world's largest source of energy.
In this climate, we do not want a president-in-waiting who says she understands a vast and dizzyingly complex Russia because she can see it (with thousand-mile vision?) from her front yard.
We should have already laughed off Sarah Palin as if her nomination was a Jon Stewart parody. Anyone can learn enough names and places to get through a debate. That is, to know just enough to make mistakes of incalculable cost.
Compare Palin's comic-book grasp to Joe Biden's command of global reality and his ability to see how other cultures think. Republicans now embrace his once-dismissed Iraq proposals.
But the top of the tickets matters more. Examine the substance of the Friday debate, and the case is open and shut.
McCain harps on a successful "surge," which may well be no more than a lull before Sunnis get frustrated and hell breaks loose again.
Obama reminds him the war started in 2003, not 2007, and he opposed it. The objective should have been Afghanistan where McCain thought we could "muddle through."
Obama's instincts were right. Bin Laden is at large, and terrorist ranks swell. At least a half million Iraqis are dead along with 4,000 Americans. Washington has squandered trillions. And Wall Street has crashed.
This is no Obama-Biden editorial. But as a reporter who tries to analyze things on the basis of facts, I've watched the world at close range for 40 years. And I am quaking.
McCain is honest enough to admit he knows little about the economy, which we could have guessed. He is also honest enough to admit he makes snap decisions and rides them into the wall.
He has seen much of the world, and it has made little impression on him. His diplomacy is to remind others how great Americans are, even when it is essential to admit failure.
In a Miami radio interview, he could not place Juan Luis Rodriquez Zapatero, president of Spain, apparently confusing him with Zapatista guerrillas in Mexico.
Zapatero was rotating president of the European Union, an ally of 450 million people with an economy bigger than ours. He has his job because Bush dragged his predecessor into Iraq.
Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan's new president, holds the pin in a grenade that could spark world war. McCain called him "Qadari," not even a South Asian name. He couldn't pronounce Mahmoud Ahmadinejid.
CNN's pundits laughed that off, but its real reporter, Christiane Amanpour, knew better. She warned such bloopers have disastrous affects abroad; people deduce that Americans just don't care enough about anyone else
Is Obama less experienced? He has lived abroad where he learned to understand others' values. He listens and reflects on human motives and national insecurities that underlie statecraft.
We cannot be swayed by ignorant slurs. Even if Obama were Muslim, freedom of religion is in the Bill of Rights. Muslims, as numerous as Christians, are not all loonies.
If voters are not ready to choose a "black" president, just what is it again that makes America so great?
Fewer Americans go abroad since the dollar has collapsed, airports are a circle of Dante's hell, and terrorists might lurk where we least expect them.
At home, growing numbers simply tune out the world, "safe" behind rent-a-cops in gated communities or lost in electronic non-reality. Like ostriches, many choose not to notice that their butts are waiting to be kicked.
In Islamabad, a peaceable garden capital, blowback from a mishandled war on terror destroyed the Marriott at great loss of life, a token of things to come. We need a stable Pakistan.
In New Delhi, fired factory workers beat their CEO to death. The India of Bollywood and call centers is only the tip of the . . . Wait. Let's not even start on icebergs.
Look anywhere. Those polar bears that Palin can't see disappearing are only a symptom of something much greater, inexorable, and the world needs wisdom in the White House.
Had CNN let him talk, we would have heard Republican Jim Leach of Iowa, a man who knows, tell the Democratic convention what is at stake and why he backs Obama.
Friday's debate separated "the economy" from "foreign policy" as though these were not seamlessly linked. America desperately needs a leader who knows that.
Now, as never before, it is time to put aside partisanship, prejudices, and petty side issues. For our children's sake, think carefully about why all of this matters so much.