Sioux City Journal

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Obama, Romney best tap into America's desire for change

Last weekend, the Journal published the results of a poll of Iowans done for all Lee Enterprises newspapers in the state, including us. Although Republicans, Democrats and Independents who responded to the poll differed in terms of how they prioritized issues, they shared an unhappiness with Washington. They all gave President Bush and the Democratic-led Congress approval ratings in the 20s.

It's clear people in this state want change. In that regard, we don't think Iowans are any different from anyone else in the country.

Americans, it seems, want a new face, a different voice. They want vision. They want someone to inspire and lead them. They want someone who will unite them. They want a positive, issue-oriented campaign. They want less poisonous partisanship and more cooperation in finding solutions to our challenges.

This election for president provides an opportunity for them to get exactly that. For the first time since 1952, no incumbent president or vice president is seeking the White House.

Over several months, we have interviewed, studied, watched and listened to candidates for president from both major political parties. Today we offer our opinion on who among the Democrats and who among the Republicans best combines a new face and voice; a strong vision; integrity and the potential for running a positive, issue-oriented general election campaign, and an ability to lead, motivate and forge consensus.

We understand Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are different men who possess different ideas and approaches. We neither agree nor disagree with either of them on all the issues facing our country.

We do, however, believe the Illinois senator and the former Massachusetts governor share a unique ability to tap into that need for change which most Iowans and Americans appear to want.

The country would be well-served by a contest between them.

Michael Gors

Editorial page editor

For the Journal editorial board

Obama: 'A common good and a higher interest'

The morning of Jan. 20, 1961, dawned under a bright sky. Despite a heavy snow, the blinding sun's reflection forced poet Robert Frost, 86, to put aside the copy of the inaugural poem he had prepared and instead recite from memory "A Gift Outright."

The poem set aside soared, and John F. Kennedy epitomized Frost's "young ambition eager to be tried," delivering one of our finest political speeches.

This is not 1961.

There are striking parallels, however, between the landscape our country faced then and today, representing a challenge few generations are charged with answering, and "the trumpet summons us again."

Barack Obama is the Democratic candidate who best understands this critical moment in our nation's history. He is equipped to bring a fractured people together and possesses the gifts to move us forward, united with a common mission, ready to answer that call.

That is why we are endorsing the U.S. senator from Illinois in the Jan. 3 Iowa Caucuses.

Obama is a gifted orator. Yet, his skills extend beyond the stage of political theater. He has demonstrated a deep understanding of the challenges, home and abroad, our next president must confront. His record in Congress and the Illinois state senate indicates he has the ability to reach out to Republicans and Independents to identify sound, bipartisan solutions and take on special interests.

Obama's domestic priorities are similar to those of many of his opponents in the Democratic field. That doesn't mean he fits neatly into the traditional liberal mold.

His health care plan, for instance, is the only Democratic plan that does not require that all Americans have health insurance, only access. He supports merit pay for teachers, something that doesn't sit well with one of the party's key union supporters. The Obama energy plan includes a sensible cap on carbon emissions without sacrificing his demand for "big" rather than incremental change.

Obama's lack of experience is most notable in the realm of foreign policy. His assertion, however, that experience can't match sound judgment has merit. Obama opposed the war in Iraq early, predicting a scenario that closely resembles the situation today. Now, he understands the complexities prohibiting immediate withdrawal. Instead, he has called for a phased, responsible withdrawal that may not be completed until 2010.

He�s been a hawk on the war on terror, criticizing the Bush administration for its failure to find Osama bin Laden and other key al-Qaeda leaders. There is no negotiating with these "hard-core jihadists," Obama maintains, "all we can do is hunt them down." He won't, however, abandon diplomatic efforts abroad and maintains we must enhance our image elsewhere in the world.

Still, Obama has been wise to surround himself with an impressive group of foreign policy advisers. A running mate with a strong foreign policy track record would be the perfect complement. If nominated, we recommend Obama consider one of his competitors - U.S. Sen. Joe Biden. An Obama-Biden ticket would offer an intriguing mix of fresh ideas and measurable achievement.

The experience of a respected politician like Biden can certainly be a blessing. Too often, however, beltway experience manifests itself in a political culture Obama describes as settling for "the constraints of the past."

The great hope embodied by a candidate like Obama is the promise of a new path. He has little patience for the "that's-just-the-way-it-is" mentality of Washington, D.C. It's a culture that increasingly relies on polling and special interests to guide policy and measures success by political points scored. Instead, Obama speaks of a change harkening back to moments in our nation's history when we shared "a common good and a higher interest. That's the change I'm looking for."

It's the kind of change America appears eager for.

Romney: 'Strong military, strong economy, strong families'

At a time when the challenges we face as a nation are formidable, complex, divisive, political and dangerous, America needs a leader with energy, intellect, vision, charisma and experience.

In his party's field of presidential candidates, Mitt Romney stands out as such an individual. Today we endorse Romney as the Republican we support in the Jan. 3 Iowa Caucuses.

Romney combines an outsider's new face with a proven track record of success as an executive in both the private and public sectors. As a businessman, the president and chief executive officer of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and governor of Massachusetts, he has demonstrated an ability to forge consensus, organize, mobilize and motivate in order to solve problems.

Personally, he is engaging, even charming, he has shown an ability to reach across partisan divides, and he is passionate on the campaign trail. In terms of leadership qualities, he possesses "it," and the importance of "it" should not be diminished. Let's be honest, a candidate for president can prepare volumes of detailed ideas, but if he or she is a polarizing figure within the halls of Congress or devoid of the personal traits necessary to inspire Americans to listen and follow, those plans don't have a chance of success.

In order to win his party's nomination and compete in the general election, Romney first must prove he's conservative enough, of course. Whether the subject is national defense, economics or social issues, his conservative credentials are strong. He understands the scope of the threat we face from Islamist jihadists and is committed to protecting America from them, wants to increase the size of the military by 100,000 troops and increase defense spending to 4 percent of our gross domestic product, and is committed to cutting taxes, wasteful federal spending and the size of government. He speaks often and with conviction about families, protecting children, values and culture. He is pro-life, but he takes a pragmatic approach to the contentious issue. He believes each individual state should determine its abortion laws through the democratic process and "not have them dictated by judicial mandate." He advocates a get-tough approach toward illegal immigration and bolstering security on our southern border.

Having earned an MBA from Harvard Business School, founded his own venture capital and investment company, managed the Olympic Games and run a state in which the Legislature is some 85 percent Democratic, Romney understands economic principles, the intricacies of reform in areas such as education and health care, and the essential need to work with the other side. It's reasonable to say the economy and budget of Massachusetts were in dramatically better shape when he left office than when he entered, that the once-troubled 2002 Winter Olympics were transformed into a profitable success under his watch.

In areas where he may be weak, such as the inner workings of Capitol Hill and knowledge of and experience in defense and foreign policy matters, we even have someone in mind for a running mate - John McCain. Our respect and admiration for McCain run deep, and we believe he would add strength and cachet to the GOP ticket in myriad important ways.

As for Romney's overdiscussed Mormonism, we believe he more than adequately addressed the subject during his JFK-like speech earlier this month at the George H.W. Bush presidential center in College Station, Texas.

Finally, the 60-year-old Romney - son of the late George Romney, a three-term governor of Michigan and secretary of Housing and Urban Development in Richard Nixon's first term - is a man of decency and integrity. Likability cannot be discounted as an attribute important in a candidate for public office.

Among all the Republican candidates this year, Romney best taps into what we believe Americans seek - a different look, a fresh vision, a return to America's goodness and greatness. He has earned the privilege to emerge from this field as his party's nominee and carry his message of "strong military, strong economy, strong families" into next year's general election campaign.

Copyright © 2007 The Sioux City Journal, a Lee Enterprises newspaper.  Reprinted by permission (Mitch Pugh, 12/27/07 e-mail).

According to summary on the paper's website: "As part of this process, we spent roughly one hour with each of the major candidates in each party who agreed to meet with our editorial board. We also studied the candidates' position statements and monitored their performance on the campaign trail."