Two troubling signs of our ethically challenging times:

With the U.S. economy sliding into an abyss, our Congressional representatives seem more concerned about their re-election than they are about casting a ‘country-first’ vote in a crisis.

A presidential candidate selects a running-mate based on her appeal to GOP conservatives, not on her qualifications.

Since rolling that pair of dice, GOP nominee John McCain repeatedly has told the media that Gov. Sarah Palin is “absolutely,” qualified to be president of the United States. Yet it’s easy to visualize him squirming each time she engages the press, and he might need at least a sedative when Palin debates Biden Thursday night.

Alas, the age of cynicism no longer is creeping up on our generation; it is fully upon us, turning our nation’s once proud idealistic mindset into a schizophrenic mound of mush. Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to mislead. (Apologies to Sir Walter Scott).

At some point in their lives many of our leaders strayed from the lessons they surely learned in Sunday school, bible studies or synagogue. They now seem to believe that it’s okay to tell a lie, even a big one, especially if it can bring about the desired partisan result. They seem to believe that during elections, the public expects them to lie. In this presidential campaign – and in others before – lies have been batted about like balls on a tether. Some pundits dismiss or ignore the practice; others eagerly amplify deceptions and/or distortions, if they help their candidates’ cause.

For those preferring fairness and integrity, our deliverance rests with the voters’ ability to scrape away enough mud and muck to see the truth. But often times during elections, the truth arrives on a freight train, not an express, too late to make a difference.

For the last eight years President George Bush has taken this country down a path that has wrecked our military, crippled our economy, shaken our status as a fair and principled nation and stained our very soul. Under Bush, we even condoned torture, something we didn’t do during World War II when we knew that defeat would mean the end of our way of life. We were guided by Christian-like principles then, not now. Greed, divisiveness and corruption are just a few of the evil gods we now seem to adore.

Bush’s doctrine is anchored in distortion, demagoguery and, indeed, already has caused spiritual and intellectual mass destruction in these United States. Sadly, Sen. McCain offers more of the same – by the bushel. Like Bush, McCain craves an imprecise ‘victory’ in Iraq, and he wants us to continue to spend $10 billion a month for as many years as necessary to achieve it. One day, he tells us the economy is fundamentally strong; the next day the bottom falls out. Then he suspends his campaign and vows not to return until a bailout deal is struck, but returns two days later unaware that the deal would soon collapse. Combine all of that with putting Palin a heartbeat away from the presidency and one wonders what’s going on in McCain’s world. For the past two weeks, he’s acted like a distressed swimmer, flailing about in search of a lifeline.

Now, consider the contrast.

From day one, Barack Obama has spoken persuasively about changing the way business is done in Washington D.C. and in the country. His focus on providing a change we can believe in has been unwavering, and there is a steadiness in his voice and demeanor, as well as his message. At this time in history, this country needs a strong, thoughtful, consistent leader, someone who will help us rekindle the good in ourselves, someone who still believes that we can come together as one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. This country needs Barack Obama to help rebuild its economy, restore its dignity and re-discover the strength, leadership and moral courage that for many years made us proud to be Americans.