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My Choice: Obama

By Charles McC. Mathias Jr.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008

In one week, Americans will face a momentous choice. We must decide which of two talented, patriotic individuals is better suited to set the course for the nation and steer it through a stormy sea.

I have known John McCain for many years, even before he was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1982. And like so many other television viewers, I have come to know Barack Obama as he has made his spirited quest for the highest office in the land through this long and unprecedented campaign.

Sens. Obama and McCain have vastly different backgrounds and strikingly different visions of how America should navigate these tumultuous times. For me, the decision on who should be the next president transcends private friendship or political affiliation. My decision is based on the long-range needs of our country and which of these two candidates I feel is better suited to recharge America's economic health, restore its prestige abroad and inspire anew all people who cherish freedom and equality. For me, that person is Barack Obama.

This decision, and this hard-fought race, have been difficult for me. In 1860, my great-grandfather ran for the Maryland Senate from Frederick on the anti-slavery Republican ticket. At the top of that ticket was Abraham Lincoln. In 1912, my grandfather rallied to Theodore Roosevelt and the Bull Moose. Most of the Mathias family has voted Republican ever since. In 1964, as a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives, I astounded many of my friends and supporters by voting for Barry Goldwater, despite disagreeing with many of his views and despite his lack of support in my congressional district. I publicly endorse the Democratic candidate for president with a sense of the historic significance of the choice before us all.

I believe that Obama's inspirational leadership, contemplative nature and well-reasoned, forward-looking policies offer our troubled nation a real opportunity to face and overcome its many challenges at home and abroad.

On an array of domestic issues, including health care, education, tax policy, the environment and alternative energy sources, Obama promises a clean break from the recent past and tangible hope for a return to fiscal responsibility, economic security and true environmental stewardship, all of which are essential to restoring our greatness. Now, Obama must be aware of the hopes that he has raised through his discussion of these issues. Many people will rightly take his words as his commitment and will judge him accordingly.

On the international front, his thoughtful and responsible approach to extricating our troops from Iraq, reallocating our finite resources elsewhere in the war on terrorism, and reviving effective use of our diplomatic corps all warrant our support. To be successful in these endeavors, Obama must be an active student of history. In attempting to bring peace to the Middle East, for example, he should recognize that the United States has played a role in the region since Franklin Roosevelt went to Saudi Arabia to meet with King Abdul-Aziz. Obama must appreciate that he is not writing on an empty page and will need to be sensitive to that which has come before him.

Obama represents the better choice to successfully address the issues that dramatically affect the health and well-being of our nation today. The fact that he is also a black American adds special significance for me as someone who was witness to and participated in at least a part of the past century's discourse on civil rights.

Throughout my career in public office, I was involved in the effort to come to terms with our country's troubled history of race relations. I am proud to have helped enact several of the landmark civil rights laws that have been the cornerstones of our national response to the inequities perpetuated by racism. This is a moment in our national life that could scarcely have been contemplated at the beginning of my career, and one that I believe our country should savor. This election is a milestone in the journey of our society to greater openness and flexibility, qualities that will serve us well as we confront the global challenges of the 21st century.

In these extraordinary times, Barack Obama has made a better case for why he is the right choice for president. He has earned my vote.

The writer, a Republican, represented Maryland in the U.S. House from 1961 to 1968 and in the U.S. Senate from 1969 to 1986.

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