American exceptionalism -- the idea that this nation by virtue of its history, political beliefs and the blessings of divine providence has a favored place in the world community -- is easy to believe in this year of a presidential election that is in every way exceptional.
Titanic forces have been at work. It is as if history has been a glacier inching its way to the sea, coming together at last for a dramatic climax that most Americans could not have imagined when the journey began.
Think what an unprecedented cast of characters our democratic process has brought forth to shape history. On the Democratic side, the fates summoned the first African-American candidate of a major party, Barack Obama, who is running with the capable Joe Biden, a more traditional choice.
On the Republican ticket, the team comprises a war hero, John McCain, in the past disliked by his own party and once on the brink of defeat during his primary campaign, and the first woman to be on the conservative party's ticket for vice president, Sarah Palin.
Think also of the dramatic context in which these figures now vie for our vote -- not only the continuing wars on several fronts since the terror attacks of 9/11, not only the sad legacy of disunion and disarray left by the chronically unpopular President George W. Bush, but also the worst economic meltdown since 1929 fresh upon the American people.
In three weeks, Americans will be called upon to make an exceptional judgment worthy of the times. The forces of history appear to invite boldness and the Post-Gazette believes they should be heeded by voting for the only authentic, fresh agent of change in this race, Barack Obama.
The greatest argument for change is also suggested by history. For the two-party system to work for the good of the republic, the parties need to be held accountable. They need to be sent to the wilderness from time to time to rethink and regroup. Ronald Reagan's success was built upon Barry Goldwater's debacle. The rise of Bill Clinton would not have been possible but for the lessons learned from the defeats of Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis. For every phoenix there must first be a fire and that time has come for the Republican Party, whose arteries are clogged with ideology accumulated at the long feast of power.
Despite the recent nastiness of his campaign. Sen. McCain is essentially a good man, but he is yesterday's man. His campaign takes its core text from the "Wizard of Oz": Don't mind the man behind the curtain. That man is George Bush, the failed magician who cannot be spoken of lest the American people be reminded of what he has wrought and what party he belongs to.
To make their trick work, Mr. McCain and his running mate, Gov. Palin, trade heavily on being mavericks -- too heavily to be believed.
It is true that Mr. McCain has a capricious streak that has made him a thorn in the side of his own party on various issues. Yet while he has not joined the know-nothing brigade in climate change denial, he has picked a running mate who is a diva in the drill, baby, drill chorus of fossil-fuel adulation. Mr. Obama, while he has recognized the need for more drilling, has put more emphasis on new sources of alternative energy, the only real hope for the future.
On Iraq, Mr. McCain did needle the Bush administration to put in more troops and he makes much of the fact that he backed the surge. That the surge was a success to the point that it reduced bloodshed does not vindicate the wrong decision in the first place to invade a country that was not behind the 9/11 attacks and did not have weapons of mass destruction; Iraq has been a huge diversion from Afghanistan.
All of this Mr. McCain, despite his vaunted experience, got wrong at the start when Barack Obama recognized the folly. That fundamental error is still costing the nation $10 billion a month, funds desperately needed at home, yet Mr. McCain sees the surge as more reason to stay than to plan now to leave and put the war in the hands of the only people who can ultimately win it: the Iraqis. That is what Mr. Obama wants to do in stages and what Mr. McCain only hopes for over the rainbow.
On health care, Mr. McCain's insurance plan is straight from the George Bush playbook, with its heavy reliance on private competition to give Americans coverage. His $5,000 tax credit for families is a pittance that won't solve America's national shame, the millions in the ranks of the uninsured. Mr. Obama's health-care plan will address that directly -- and, no, it won't be socialism. Americans will still have their choices.
On the economic meltdown, Mr. McCain famously said "the fundamentals of our economy are strong" shortly before it collapsed. Although he has admitted that economics is not his strong suit, he foolishly suspended his campaign briefly to interject himself into a situation that he did not understand and where he was not wanted.
Mr. Obama doesn't have all the answers either, but he does acknowledge what former champion of deregulation John McCain can't: While there's blame to go around both parties, the economic crisis is the final verdict on the failure of the Bush administration.
In this and much else, Mr. McCain is not the steady hand he purports to be, and nothing proves it more than his reckless selection of Sarah Palin, whose lack of knowledge to take over as president has becoming increasingly obvious and embarrassing. If Mr. McCain had chosen one of the many accomplished women in the Republican Party, his candidacy would have the stamp of seriousness. Instead, it bears the superficial imprint of pandering populism.
But this election is not just about the shortcomings of Mr. McCain and Ms. Palin and the failed legacy of a philosophy that they seek to perpetuate under the hastily erected banner of maverick.
It is about the strengths of Barack Obama, whose rise to prominence is not a fluke or national infatuation but the consequence of his remarkable skills -- a keen intellect, noble intentions and the wit and grace to express them in ways that have inspired millions across the country. He has a rare gift exactly suited to the fearful times -- he knows the language of reassurance and hope.
If his were just empty words, this would be just another cheap political gift. But what he says is carefully considered. In the debates and on the hustings, Mr. Obama has been the voice of moderation, combining common sense and compassion on issue after issue. When the subject turns to foreign policy, supposedly Mr. McCain's strong suit, Mr. Obama gives no indication that he will have to learn on the job.
That the argument about issues has been essentially won by Sen. Obama is plain from the scurrilous attacks now being launched against his character -- increasingly by Ms. Palin -- alleging guilt by association, unpatriotic behavior and worse.
This closing blizzard of slime is another attempt to spread the wizard's curtain further: Don't look at how the economy has impoverished you while a Republican has been in the White House, look at Mr. Obama's passing acquaintance with an old radical who did bad deeds almost 40 years ago, because that is more important.
Yes, they apparently do think the American people are that stupid.
On Nov. 4, we believe Americans will heed the better angels of their nature and recognize that the election of the eloquent Barack Obama -- whose story is a quintessentially American one of impossible odds overcome -- will best answer the pressing call of history.