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The American way

The 2008 presidential contest may be crowded and long, but it's overflowing with choice.

July 04, 2007

THERE'S PLENTY to bemoan about America on this Fourth of July: We're a nation at war, and it's not going well. The climate is warming, and we carry more than our share of the blame. Guantanamo is open, and "Scooter" Libby is not a guest there. The shouters and race-baiters won this year's battle on immigration. The Supreme Court, which once led the country out of confusion on race relations, now seems determined to lead it back. And America's pastime is more preoccupied with drug habits than box scores.

But in this often desolate landscape, we are pleased to report that there is an oasis. The campaign to succeed President Bush offers a hint of what sustains this nation: Whatever else one may think about the candidates, one cannot deny that they reflect a vigorous, disputatious and diverse society.

On the Democratic side, the leading candidates include a woman, a black man and a Latino, along with the requisite run of white guys. They include relative neophytes and seasoned veterans, and they range in age from middle years to near-senior citizen: Barack Obama is not yet 50; Hilary Clinton is approaching 60; Joe Biden's coming up on 65. The Republicans, admittedly, are more monochromatic and male, but the front-runners include a Roman Catholic, an Episcopalian and a Mormon. And what the Republicans lack in range on gender and ethnicity, they partly make up for in background. There's a lawyer-turned-senator-turned actor, a mayor, some governors -- granted, not the full range of American experience, but compared to the Democrats' senator-heavy options, a reasonably full slate.

On the issues and beyond the major-party offerings of the candidate field, the diversity of thought mirrors that of color, gender and background. There are a few libertarians, a bunch of independents, a core of conservatives and a liberal or two. There are candidates on both sides of the abortion divide, advocates of every kind of tax system and supporters as well as critics of the war in Iraq -- along with at least one candidate who sort of supported it and now emphatically does not. There's even a handful of options for voters who deny the fact of evolution. OK, so not all diversity is desirable.

This election will be wearyingly long and depressingly expensive -- one can only grimace at the thought of what the hundreds of millions of dollars that will fund the contest might otherwise have purchased. But one thing it will not deny Americans is a choice.

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