That John McCain endured five years as a POW in Vietnam is admirable, but determination and guts alone do not qualify him to be president of the United States. His judgment is all over the political map these days, though over the past eight years he voted with George W. Bush 90 percent of the time. His stance on Iran, Russia, and China has been even more hawkish than that of the current administration.

Yet, in a desperate attempt to distance himself, not only from a discredited president, but, apparently, from many in the Republican Party, the presumptive candidate passed over several experienced, conservative colleagues to choose as his running mate … whom? An unknown first-term governor of Alaska with a previous record of badly managing a town of a few thousand.

We have been told by Alaskans who know her that she has an extremely simple view of the world, is harshly judgmental and intolerant of those who disagree with her, has been unable to grasp the demands of leadership, and is prone to cronyism of the worst kind. Perhaps these are less important than that she is “perky,” “pretty,” and could “shake things up,” as she surely did at a recent convention deadened by shopworn platitudes and eager to find a voice.

Clearly, Mr. McCain has a tough job. He must distance himself from the unpopular Bush-Cheney team. (Thank goodness for Hurricane Gustav — a gift from God that allowed McCain to disinvite his party leaders on opening night of the convention.)

McCain’s acceptance speech three nights later promised “Change, Change, Change!” But from what? From everything his party has stood for and advocated for the last eight, miserable years? How sad.

Apart from half-lies, whole lies, and platitudes, McCain and his convention offered a beleaguered nation little — no discussion of Iraq, the economy, the environment, jobs, health care, education — about the issues hurting most Americans, who long for leadership. In fairness, what of substance can Republicans say about these issues that have become more urgent under their watch? Their policies have bankrupted our country and diminished us abroad, yet they seem to have no coherent policy going forward … except “Watch out, Washington, Change is coming!”

Huh?

This rousing theme of “Change” holds more promise coming from the other side. Barack Obama is of Kansas and Kenya, he has lived in different cultures and learned from them. He was raised by his white Kansan grandparents in Hawaii. He is every bit as white as he is black. His life experience makes him more deeply and interestingly American than most of us. He is highly intelligent, and courageous. He knows who he is because he took the trouble, under difficult childhood circumstances, to find out.

Obama is by temperament, judicious, tolerant, pragmatic. He listens well and appreciates the value of reasoned views different from his own. His judgments are thoughtful, based on thorough research and analysis. Not afraid of people who may be even smarter than he is, he is surrounded by seasoned, wise advisers. His interest is in what is best for our nation and the American people, not what he thinks might appeal to peoples’ political viscera.

Obama is likely to be a transformational president, certainly the only one running who has the wisdom, perspective, and courage to lead us out of the morass George W. Bush leaves behind.

In contrast, Mr. McCain is aggressive, quixotic, and unpredictable. He is proud to appeal to us as a maverick, taking whatever position suits him best on most major issues. He is also proud to have been raised in a military culture that considers “might” our greatest gift to the world. As a fighter pilot, he lived in and relished a world of danger, recklessness, and gunfire. He promises to stay in Iraq 100 years if necessary. His first major decision since becoming the presumptive nominee was a radical one, a roll of the dice, made on an impulse, with little vetting. He hardly knew Ms. Palin himself.

The Republican ticket now offers us not one, but two wild cards. The first, an older gent, and the second, someone with unbelievably thin experience and an ideological commitment skewed to the far right. Given the age of the first, the second might well become president.

We’ll not soon recover from two terms of a radical administration. How can we imagine another four years of wild cards in the White House?

Susan Goodwillie Stedman of Westport Island worked for the United Nations and Ford Foundation on international development issues and was the first executive director of Refugees International.