06/05/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

John McCain's "Two Americas"

John Edwards made famous the theme of "two Americas" on the campaign trail this year: One America consists of the well-off and the prosperous, while the other America falls behind each day under the strains of an economy that rewards wealth and punishes work. John McCain is working his own "two America" shtick lately, but it is fundamentally different than the one Edwards made famous.

For John McCain there are also "two Americas." One America consists of a nation of adventurers and salt-of-the-earth frontier people who tamed a wilderness, moved rivers, built canals and constructed the transcontinental railroad. They are a strong people, hearty individualists all, who invented the gramophone and the aeroplane, and who pulled themselves up from their own bootstraps out of the Great Depression. It is an America that defeated fascism and Japanese Imperialism and built the world's largest middle class. It is an America of courageous, innovative people who put a human being on the moon and won the Cold War, selflessly vanquishing for the world's people the totalitarian Soviet Union. In this America we see a people whose creativity knows no bounds and brought forth the microchip revolution, the personal computer, and the Internet. This America is a nation that looks beyond its own selfish interests to provide help and assistance to people all over the world who are less fortunate and in need.

But for McCain there is also another America:

This America is a nation of people who should wake up each morning thankful they have not yet been killed or maimed by evildoers and terrorists. This is an America paralyzed by 19 fanatics with box cutters who hijacked four commercial airliners. It is an America of people cowering in their homes and sealing themselves inside with duct tape and plastic sheeting. It is an America where people fear each day and fear each other and dread what terrible things the evildoers and terrorists must be plotting. It is an America with color-coded terror scales alerting us to just how terrified we should be on any given day. It is a weak and hapless nation that must torture prisoners, toss out the Geneva Conventions, suspend habeas corpus, spy on its own citizens, purge its websites, and be afraid -- be very afraid -- of everything in the world we do not understand including gay people and immigrants. McCain's other America shivers in its collective boots from the specter of Al Qaeda, Iran, North Korea, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Muslims and brown people in general. Mainly, McCain's other vision for America just tells people to be scared all the time. Be afraid of your own shadows; be afraid to negotiate or even talk with our enemies; be afraid to honor treaties like Kyoto; be afraid to innovate or move forward on global climate change. Be paralyzed through the sheer terror of it all. And vote for McCain because, like George W. Bush, he "will keep you safe!"

So which is it John McCain? Do we live in the America of strong people able to move confidently forward into the future and take on the complex problems we face? Or is it the other America of weaklings and knaves who cower in their homes watching Fox News and awaiting the next big terrorist attack?