Whose change is best?

Posted: Thursday, September 18, 2008

The conventions are over, the lineups are set, and the debates are coming. In other words, we're finally getting a better shape of this presidential race.

What we know now is that the contest has morphed into a conversation about change. We have seven weeks to decide what kind of change we prefer.

Here's the case for each candidate as a change agent and why, depending upon the issue, you should vote for him:

REPUBLICAN JOHN MCCAIN

What John McCain really did in selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate was turn the change debate into an even tug of war. Barack Obama previously owned the rope.

The Charlie Gibson interviews showed Palin hasn't trafficked in foreign policy discussions, but what else came through was her fighter instinct. She also showed that in the way she became governor, running against the way the ol' boys in her own party ran Alaska.

Her instincts have revived McCain's fighter juices. He has been running more as his old maverick self, the one who energized McCainiacs in 2000. But what's not clear is what he wants to change, other than shaking up the lobbies and status quo politicians.

Here's one way: Take the national debt and run hard on it. Make this the issue of the future. Pledge that you will bring up every darn day that we are passing to future generations $53 trillion in federal debt (when you consider the money due Social Security and Medicare).

Obama's sure not making this his issue. By ending the war and hiking taxes on the wealthy, he would spend billions on priorities from bridges to classrooms to health care.

Some of those priorities need money, but where do those long-term obligations we're passing along enter the equation? Way down his list.

McCain, to his credit, wants to take any savings from Iraq and apply them to the deficits that keep pumping the rising debt. And he recently pledged to overhaul Social Security and Medicare in his first term.

He also backs his pledges with hard votes. He opposed giving seniors a Medicare drug benefit, and he voted to limit how much Medicare pays doctors.

Folks, those are not easy calls. They speak to the leadership he would provide in changing Washington's thinking about our gigantic liabilities.

DEMOCRAT BARACK OBAMA

Obama has lost control of the change issue, and many of his policies are standard liberal fare. Still, he could bring about serious cultural changes.

He has revived the energy and idealism of young people, which suggests he could inspire a new generation the way John F. Kennedy did. Obama's ability to inspire could change the way many people want to invest their talents.

He also could change the way we think about race. Racial inequality has stained and twisted America's consciousness since its birth. Particularly in the South, it hovered over almost every aspect of everything.

Obama specifically has not run on race, and to this point, that makes sense.

But other Democrats, like southerners Sam Nunn and David Boren, could make the case why his election would signify a radical, important change. It would speak to the way we think about democracy as a way to achieve justice.

And a cool, Harvard Law-educated black president not only would change the nation's psyche, it would project a different image of America around the world.

So, there you go, a case for each. If you worry about the deficit, McCain's your man. If you worry about broader cultural issues, it's Obama.

If you worry about both, you have seven weeks to decide which change matters most. Good luck.

• William McKenzie is an editorial columnist for The Dallas Morning News.

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