Who is more out of touch, our presidential candidates, the media or the voting public? Can the electorate be seriously engaged about such things as whether Barack Obama wears a flag pin in his lapel or puts his hand over his heart while reciting the pledge of allegiance?  Will race and gender define political choice and will voters continue to buy into the myth that we are safer because of the Bush pre-emptive war in Iraq where victory may finally boil down to “an acceptable level of violence” according to the president?

One thing that emerges with stunning clarity is that the folks in charge of our foreign policy never developed a plan to finish up ‘over there’, no doubt because they wanted all along to establish a permanent presence in Iraq and, by tying that goal erroneously to the attacks on 9/11, they convinced a country overcome with grief and rage that their plans were well intentioned. Senator McCain would have us believe that the only thing wrong with our military engagement in Iraq is that it was mismanaged by Secretary Rumsfeld, not that it was an endeavor plagued from the outset by an ill-conceived rationale, faulty intelligence and enablers who wanted to invade Iraq just because they felt like it.

So as the campaign season wears on the American people are continually barraged with the most irrational demagoguery about who is best able to protect and defend the country both in terms of national security and with respect to its economic well-being. Not a Republican debate goes by without candidates claiming to be the biggest, baddest tax-cutting dudes on the planet. Economic weakness they say is about over-spending, entitlements, pork, never about an interminable war, outsourced jobs, corporate tax loopholes. Where would they cut spending and how do rolling back tax cuts for the very rich and re-considering government subsidies for businesses already awash in huge profits constitute raising taxes? Well that’s where things get a little fuzzy.

And cutting the military budget is never part of the equation. In fact almost all candidates talk about beefing up our forces, creating new weapons systems and since, as McCain would have us to understand, there will be “more wars” we should be prepared. For his part, Mitt Romney at a campaign rally on Sunday criticized President Clinton for cutting the defense budget and diminishing the country’s combat readiness. In reality reduced military spending was thought to be a sensible cost-saving device initiated during the first Bush presidency; Clinton simply continued that policy when he took office. It was referred to in those years as “the peace dividend” since we were not at war nor was one planned in the near future.

Oddly, at a time when the country seems united in wanting to end our military commitment in Iraq, Republicans can always please their base by insisting we stay ‘until the job is done’. Suddenly McCain is thought to be his party’s most formidable choice come November. It is hard to fathom why his experience as a prisoner of war and his time in the Senate make him a viable candidate, but that’s what we are told. Yet his “straight talk” often sounds strangely off, and he isn’t just old in years, his ideas are rooted in the past with no encouraging signs that he would move the country forward either domestically or with respect to our foreign engagements.

On one occasion after a rousing Obama rally, a televised McCain campaign event was rather like taking a plunge with the Polar Bear Club into the frigid winter waters of Long Island Sound only less invigorating. And the Clinton camp, for all its intellect and political savvy has been a disappointment. President Clinton’s comment after Obama’s resounding victory in South Carolina that oh well Jesse Jackson won there too some years back was such an obviously dismissive, racially-hot-button remark one would be hard put to explain away. If that’s the tenor of a Clinton candidacy it strikes a sour note.

The electorate could stand to be inspired, motivated and energized rather than scared, misled and racially tweaked. The media loves it when candidates ‘mix it up’, but the country needs to get beyond the games people play and believe in its leaders again.