Across the country, voters are as interested in Super Tuesday's voting as they were in the Super Bowl. Change is in the air. Young people are in motion. Something is happening out there.
What accounts for this excitement? Surely, Sen. Barack Obama is right: People are looking for change. Iraq, recession, Katrina, the housing bust, $3.30-a-gallon gas, melting ice caps, stagnant wages and rising costs -- people have good reason to want a change in direction.
Part of the excitement comes from the candidates. Turnout in the Democratic primaries has been up across the board. That's in part because, as Sen. Hillary Clinton has said, these candidates make history. A woman or an African American will be the nominee of the Democratic Party; closed doors are opening, glass ceilings are lifting.
Faith is the ''substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.'' As Obama has shown, hope isn't empty. It requires a leap of faith, but that faith is grounded in the substance of what is hoped for, the evidence that things unseen might be possible. People don't move because they are in pain. They move because they believe another way is possible.
This is a big deal. When Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Helmut Kohl captured power in 1980, they argued, as Thatcher said, that ''There is no alternative,'' lowering taxes on the wealthy, cutting back support for working people, empowering CEOs, weakening workers, abandoning the poor, bolstering the military -- you might not like it but there is no alternative. Now for the first time, people understand that these policies have been digging us into a hole.
This creates the opportunity for presidential candidates to show us the way. The way out of Iraq and toward a real security agenda. A new economic course that will work for working people. A new politics that will empower the many and not simply the few. It is a time to be bold.
The president submitted his last budget proposal for 2009 -- a $3 trillion budget with a $400 billion deficit -- not counting the full cost of the Iraq war. More tax cuts. More military spending, even though the Pentagon is already spending more on the military than the rest of the world combined. Cuts in domestic spending, with much coming from Medicare and Medicaid. The wrong and the mean -- calling once more for cutting home heating assistance for low-income households.
The president's budget is dead on arrival. Congress will pass a tax-cut stimulus and put off the rest, probably until after the election. But here is where leaders can provide a different course. They can rally America to make the investments we desperately need in our future -- in health care, in schools, in mass transit and roads, bridges and vital infrastructure. Change priorities. Curb our commitment to police the world. Challenge our young to volunteer to service. Invest in making schools first rate, and colleges affordable.
In the Depression, Roosevelt warned against fear that would paralyze. But he also offered a New Deal to inspire. Jobs programs, rural electrification, the Tennessee Valley Authority and much more. He gave substance to hope and transformed this country.
We're not in an economic depression yet, but America is emerging from a political depression. Voters are turning out and looking for change. The challenge for leaders is to define the change, to map answers large enough to deal with the problems we face. It is time to step up.
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