A little more than three weeks from today, American voters will be going to the polls to select the next president of the United States - the president of the most powerful and most influential nation in the world.
Voters have two choices: Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, 73, a career military officer, a Caucasian; and Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, 47, a lawyer and community organizer, the first African-American to be nominated for the presidency.
This election comes at a time when tremendously important issues are on the table, which demand immediate attention. In addition to these current challenges, the outcome of the election could bring major, long-lasting changes to the American way of life.
Issues on the "immediate" agenda include: the U.S. stock market, the housing situation and the number of jobless Americans, even though more Americans have jobs now than at any other time in our nation's history.
Also on that list are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the constant war on terrorism and the challenge of keeping our country safe, the nuclear weapons threat and how to deal with unbalanced, dangerous leaders in Iran and North Korea. The "energy" crisis and America's dependence on foreign oil also has affected the entire world, not just the U.S.
These are just a few of the most serious problems facing our country. Unfortunately, American voters are not getting true, balanced and honest answers as to how the two candidates would address these issues.
Obama is a superb speaker and has put together probably one of the best-organized campaign efforts of any U.S. presidential hopeful. He has raised record levels of money to finance his campaign and has thousands of paid workers across the country. There are questions about the millions of dollars coming into the Obama campaign from unnamed overseas donors, and there are mounting questions about fraudulent voter registration practices conducted by the activist ACORN organization, with which Obama has had ties in the past.
Obama has been in the U.S. Senate since 2005 and has a spotty record for attendance and for passing on so many votes. According to several reports, Obama has the most liberal voting record in the Senate, and his vice presidential running mate, Joe Biden, has the third most liberal ranking in the Senate.
McCain has been in the Senate since 1987, and his critics have claimed his election would be merely an extension of the policies of George Bush. They point out that McCain has voted in favor of the Bush legislative program more than 90 percent of the time.
McCain's age has been an issue, along with his health and whether his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, is capable or sufficiently trained and knowledgeable to assume the presidency if necessary.
Lately, McCain critics have raised the question of the senator's connection with the so-called "Keating Five," which involved the financial actions of a handful of Arizona officials, most of whom were friends of McCain. The Senate found no evidence McCain had acted illegally, although Democrats have brought up this issue in response to McCain's questioning of Obama's associations with his longtime pastor the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and ultra-radical Bill Ayers.
The question of whether America will continue to be a capitalist country or move toward socialism is debated by many. Obama clearly favors more government controls and involvement while McCain is staunch in his support of less government and capitalism even though in a recent campaign speech he suggested the government should buy out or pick up the mortgages on thousands of homes in danger of foreclosure.
Both senators voted in favor of the recent $700 billion federal rescue plan to try to halt the slide of the stock market and bring balance to the U.S. economy.
Both candidates have made statements that their critics believe are untrue or misleading. For instance, Obama says he will initiate plans to make the U.S. energy independent within 10 years, which knowledgeable officials say is impossible.
Another issue in this election is the effort to get millions of new voters to the polls in November. It's a worthy challenge, but there is the very serious and real problem that a high percentage of these newly recruited young voters have little idea or knowledge about election issues or the beliefs and visions of the two candidates. A number of interviews with these newly registered young people show a shocking lack of understanding of current events and personalities.
In every election, there are developments that neither candidate can control. Usually, the party in power gets blamed for most troubles while challengers have the luxury of hindsight and saying what should have been done while not having any responsibility for their Monday morning quarterbacking.
It's surprising Obama is not further ahead in the polls, considering the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (and the number of American troops who have been killed in these two theaters), the energy crisis, the skyrocketing price of oil, the housing crisis and the economy.
And yet, only two years ago, the stock market was at an all-time high, regular gasoline was about $2.24 a gallon, the unemployment rate was around 4.5 percent, and consumer confidence was high.
Now the economy is a mess, and a good share of the public blames the Bush administration, even though, in 2006, American voters put Democrats in control of the House and Senate. How much of the current chaos should be placed at the feet of the Democratic-controlled Congress and its leaders, such as Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Harry Reid, Sen. Chris Dodd and Rep. Barney Frank?
The current challenges as well as what kind of country we will be four, eight or more years from now - the composition of the Supreme Court and whether socialism and bigger government will become the law of the land - all will be determined to a large degree by who is elected 23 days from today.
This is a tremendous responsibility with enormous consequences.