The situation facing the next American president may be the most dire since Franklin Roosevelt took over the job in 1933.

With the Great Depression holding the nation by its throat and as talk of another war in Europe lurched toward reality, FDR offered this country something better than money or guns - hope.

It's a commodity not to be discounted when a recession, if not another Depression, is knocking on our door. People need hope when their country is caught up in an unpopular war, and they know more soldiers must be sent to another theater. But hope is not enough.

If America is going to fight its way out of a worldwide economic crisis that has people fearful of losing not only their homes but also their jobs, and fearful of unending war, then it must have better leadership than it has had the past eight years.

There are those who say this election should not be a referendum on the incumbent. But the presidency of George W. Bush colors everything about America today. His mistakes must not be repeated.

Both major candidates are trying to avoid association with Bush's failed policies. But only one does so successfully. On every issue important to America, Barack Obama offers a plan that would pull this nation from the precipice built by bad Bush decisions. The Inquirer endorses BARACK OBAMA for president.

While John McCain also promises "change," it's hard to believe that's possible from someone who, by his own admission, has voted with Bush 90 percent of the time. On key issues such as campaign finance, pork-barrel spending, and humane interrogation of terrorism suspects, McCain has indeed been a "maverick." But mostly, he and Bush have been on the same page.

More troubling was McCain's selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. This blatant overture to women voters and evangelical Christians who share her views on abortion backfired when Palin in interviews proved she is not prepared to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Over the past four months, this Editorial Board has compared the candidates' positions. In almost every case, Obama has a superior proposal for this nation. Consider:

Give McCain credit for supporting the successful "surge" of additional U.S. troops to Iraq. But McCain opposes a timetable for leaving Iraq, something even the Iraqi government wants. Obama wants a reasonable timetable for withdrawal, coordinated to protect U.S. troops, that would allow our focus to shift to the Afghanistan/Pakistan border area, where Osama bin Laden is holed up.

One of the most persistent deceptions in this campaign is McCain's claim that Obama proposes "painful tax increases on working American families." Obama would raise income taxes on households earning more than $250,000 per year. Most households - 81 percent - would receive a tax cut. The nonpartisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center has calculated that households earning between $37,595 and $66,354 a year would save $1,118 on their taxes annually under Obama's plan. McCain's proposal would save those same families, on average, $325.

On energy, both McCain and Obama favor alternatives such as wind, solar and biofuels to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. But McCain wrongly emphasizes offshore drilling, which will have minimal impact, and building more nuclear plants, which will take decades.

Obama would provide health insurance to more Americans. He would subsidize premiums for the working poor, mostly paid for by repealing the Bush tax cuts but also by requiring businesses that don't provide medical benefits to contribute. McCain's idea to provide medical tax credits of $2,500 per person and $5,000 for families would come at a hefty cost, ending the tax break given workers whose health care is paid for them at work.

Presidents can have their deepest and most lasting impact on American society through their appointments to the federal courts, especially the U.S. Supreme Court. Justices John Paul Stevens, 88, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 75, two of the more liberal justices, could retire soon. McCain has promised to nominate justices in the mold of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, both Bush appointees. That would shift the court to the far right, possibly threatening the Roe v. Wade decision. Obama appointments to replace the liberal justices would keep the court balanced.

McCain says he's committed to public education, but all he offers is more charter and voucher programs, saying competition is the best way to improve failing schools. Obama wisely wants $18 billion for an ambitious pre-K-to-12th agenda that includes more funding for early childhood education. He also would give tax credits to college students who in return would perform 100 hours of community service a year.

There's another reason to vote for Obama. It would tell the world that the melting-pot America of legend has finally become a reality - electing a biracial president whose black father was born in Kenya and white mother hailed from Kansas.

With his eloquent oratory, Obama has already taken big steps to bridge America's racial divide. In his gentle but resolute demeanor, people also see a man who can restore their faith in a national government that's been trapped in a tar pit of partisan sniping.

These times demand steady, focused leadership. Leadership that takes America far from the policies that have created so much fear. Leadership that says it's OK to hope, because hope properly directed yields results. Barack Obama is ready to provide that leadership.

Another view: McCain the stronger candidate

The Editorial Board's endorsement of Barack Obama was not unanimous. Dissenters said:

No one is better prepared than John McCain to serve as commander in chief and lead the country as it seeks successful outcomes in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and to work with Pakistan to help kill or capture the perpetrators of 9/11. McCain's actions as a POW in Vietnam were heroic. In Congress, he has become intimately familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of the Pentagon.

The Arizona senator has stood up to generals and presidents from Reagan to Bush on defense issues. He often offers sound alternatives, such as the counterinsurgency strategy that has brought greater security and stability to Iraq.

Just the possibility of McCain in the White House chills the spines of pork-barrel spenders in both parties. And McCain understands that raising taxes to "spread the wealth" is not a form of patriotism, but a burden - to Joe the plumber and other Americans trying to make ends meet.

A President McCain would work across the political aisle. He's done it before, often angering fellow Republicans. And his character is unassailable. The selfless and courageous way he conducted himself during 51/2 years as a POW says much about the man.

He's made mistakes, such as the Keating scandal during the savings and loan crisis, but he's more than atoned for that error with his work on campaign-finance reform. That issue alone shows two other things about McCain: He'll go against his party if he thinks it's in the best interests of the country. And his word is good. He promised to stick with public financing of this year's campaign and did so.

Ask people to describe McCain and the first response often is, "He's honest." What you see is what you get. There are no mysterious associations to dance around. No 20-year attendance of a church whose pastor preached anti-American sermons. No serving on an education reform panel with a domestic terrorist. No financial support from a convicted felon. No ties to a group currently under investigation for possible voter-registration fraud.

And McCain didn't hire as a strategist David Axelrod, who helped lead Mayor John Street's race-baiting reelection campaign.

America needs an honest president with experience, common sense, sound temperament and good judgment in the Oval Office. Those qualities will make it easy for many to vote for McCain.

Find other endorsements and editorials on presidential election issues at http://go.philly.com/nov4.