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At a time when the financial markets are in crisis, America is engaged in two wars, and the problems of energy security and global climate change threaten our planet, this country needs a leader who has demonstrated the maturity and intellectual inquisitiveness to thoughtfully confront the major challenges of our time.

While we consider both major party candidates qualified to serve as president, Senator Barack Obama has demonstrated through his decisions and demeanor that he is best equipped to lead in these challenging times. Obama manages to balance a cool, careful confidence with uniquely inspirational oratory in a manner that has not been seen since the days of John F. Kennedy. In addition, Obama seems to demonstrate a clear and secure grasp of the important domestic issues that will have the most profound effect on the future of the nation — the economy, energy, climate change, and healthcare.

Though we hold in high esteem Senator John McCain’s long record of public service, his campaign has unfolded as a long series of rash reactions and poorly-considered choices culminating in the selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. He also has done little over the last few months to dispel the belief that a McCain administration would represent another four years of the same failed policies that have burdened the nation under the current president.

Palin has proven especially disappointing as a vice-presidential candidate, demonstrating a serious lack of knowledge on the crucial issues and a troubling misconception of the role and powers of the vice presidency. Even worse, the divisive nature of her attacks against the so-called “non-American” parts of America represent the same sort of hate-filled populism that Karl Rove used to foist the current president upon us.

Conversely, over the past few months, Obama has crafted a clear vision for the nation of the type of change that he represents. Obama believes that, though the heart of American progress lies in the industry of its citizens and its businesses, government can play an important role in tackling the problems that rise above even the market’s ability to handle. As such, he has defined a series of fundamental reforms to our nation’s healthcare system, has called for reinvesting in basic and applied research and has introduced a strong, progressive energy policy, which is the key to global sustainability and our future economic competitiveness.

The difference between the candidate’s energy policies is fairly representative of the difference between the approaches of the two candidates. Though both candidates have plans to tackle dependence on foreign oil and greenhouse gas emissions, Obama’s plans are consistently more ambitious and stand a better chance of realizing meaningful change. Obama plans to implement a cap-and-trade system to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Though this is highly ambitious, such steps are essential if we are to reverse the course of global warming. McCain only aims for a 66 percent reduction.

Obama also promises to invest $150 billion over the next 10 years in developing clean energy technology, while McCain is focused on much smaller investments totaling in the tens of billions. While neither candidates’ plans are perfect, taken in the whole, Obama’s plan is more comprehensive and represents the best investment for reducing the nation’s dependence on fossil fuel technology.

It won’t be possible for either candidate to fix all of the problems that America faces. The struggling economy, the quagmire of Iraq and the ballooning national debt all pose unimaginably complex challenges. While either candidate would be better equipped to tackle these issues than the current president, over the past two years of the presidential campaign, Obama has proven he is ready and more capable than McCain to build broad consensus for boldly and decisive action. Senator Obama is the leader America needs now.