We trust ourselves, and we trust that the combined will of the People will always in the end prevail. Repeatedly I've argued that deciding who to vote for on the bases of campaign rhetoric, or transient issues is misguided.
I believe that we should have already thoughtfully worked out the political philosophy we believe is best for the country. As Americans, the Constitution provides a sound foundation for an effective government that carefully balances the needs of the individual against the needs of society as a whole. A government that is a relatively "pure" Democracy is very nearly anarchistic, with the individual out weighing the needs of society for order, security, and predictability. This sort of government makes almost every national issue the subject of a plebiscite. That results in disaffection for the individuals who "lose" to the will of the majority, and paralysis when government most needs to act quickly, effectively and in a concerted manner.
On the other hand there are those who would place the needs of society above the individual. The government of the PRC and other dictatorships claim to know what is best for every individual, and that central planning is better than individual initiatives. That sort of government was the norm until the Constitution was negotiated, and a the United States adopted a system where the rights of individuals and the rights of society as a whole were guaranteed and balanced.
Both Parties have evolved elements from both of the two primary approaches. The Democratic Party, once all for individualism and States Rights adopted a government oriented approach to addressing national problems during the FDR and LBJ administrations. Individual and State responsibilities are now touted as Federal responsibilities, and the Federal government is responsible for every failure, every problem, and failure that happens within the country. The Republican Party has at the same time adopted the notion of "the least government, is the best government", something that the Democrats propounded for most of the nation's political history. Both Parties have become focused on bribing the electorate with unattainable promises, and appeals to voter special interest groups. So Party affiliation may be helpful in choosing who to vote for, but alone it is only marginally better than believing in campaign rhetoric and "issues".
I think as voters we need to measure each of the candidates against the political philosophy that we believe is best for our country. For me, the GOP is currently closer to the political philosophy embodied in the Constitution than is the Democratic Party. So I naturally tilt toward that Party's candidates, even though I could well be mistaken in my choices.
When we elect a person to the Presidency, we should accept that no person is without fault and that all are probably going to pursue policies that we personally might detest. We don't, or at least shouldn't, elect Presidents who only act in accord with popular opinion. We want a person who can be trusted to act responsibly and in accordance with the basic values of our national culture. The President can't be totally open about many government matters foreign, or domestic. He/she has to make decisions that risk much on the basis of limited knowledge and no crystal ball. Decisions can not be effective if they are made largely on the basis of what is popular. The President has a lonely job of awesome responsiblity, and must have great courage and a clear set of values. The President can not hesitate to order military missions that will almost certainly result in thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of deaths, when that mission is of great importance to the security and well-being of the United States. Presidents are politicians, and politicians find it difficult to make decisions that risk unpopularity, so a President has to be able to rise above politics and his innate need to be loved by all.
How do we judge a candidate's character and courage? By their experience and public record primarily. Not their words, but their actions especially when those decisions/actions risk the candidate's self-interest. Are the candidate's core values strong enough to transcend opposition when it comes to doing "the right thing"? Experience in the political ways of Washington is important in getting legislation passed. To have walked in Harm's Way, and come out of the experience with honor is, I think, a good indicator.
I don't think we should confuse the top of the ticket with the Vice-Presidential candidates. Historically the VP ascends to the Executive Chair only about 20% of the time, so neither Presidential candidate is likely to die or become incapacitated in Office. At 72, McCain is the oldest candidate, but given modern medicine and life expectancy he should have no problem serving for at least four years, and perhaps even eight. The President will be the person who sets policy, designs budgets, calls for legislation, commands the military, and negotiates/deals with foreign governments. The VP may be a trusted advisor and a Presidential apprentice, but they more often than not fade quickly into the background of every administration. The VP is chosen primarily as an attack agent who can take the "low-road" leaving the Presidential candidate above the fray. The VP is often chosen to provide regional or political balance to the ticket.
At the moment the focus is largely on Gov. Palin, and her selection seems to have been a good one. She has wide appeal with "common folk", women, and with the religious/right base of the GOP. Her willingness to take on senior members of her own Party for fraud and malpractice, showed the sort of courage and willingness to take risks that I admire. Her being an outsider to Washington politics will appeal to many populists who want to "throw the rascals out". Those characteristics fuel her popularity, but her lack of political savvy would be very disturbing to me if she were at the top of the ticket. With the focus on Palin, Biden gets a free ride for awhile. That will probably change over the next few weeks. In any case, both VP candidates are a side-show to the McClain-Obama shootout.