Without question, this election will be the most important in my lifetime. Traditionally, national campaigns have focused on which party and which candidate could best improve our lot in terms of peace and prosperity. Today, I truly believe our very survival as a successful and independent nation is at stake.

This may all sound dramatic, but consider the following:

•We are engaged in a war that should never have been launched and does not lend itself to an easy exit.

•Our true national deficits when put on the accrual system of accounting exceed $53 trillion, or $450,000 per household. Much of that debt is owned by other nations, including Japan and China.

•Since the 1970s we have promised ourselves that we would significantly reduce our dependency on foreign oil, but every effort toward success was offset by the allure of cheap oil, SUVs and massive trade deficits, and our dependency has increased.

•The American dream of a growing middle class continues to be threatened. In April of this year, the Pew Research Center found that "for decades, middle-income Americans had been making absolute progress" and then concluded, "but since 1999, they have not made economic gains." In the six months since that finding, the middle-class plight has significantly worsened, with the mortgage and liquidity crisis along with growing fears of a deep recession.

Politically, the Republican Party and its candidates are in full flight from this wreckage and the name "Bush," while Democrats continue to pin the tail on the elephant.

It had been my hope that Sen. John McCain would have seen these series of challenges as an opportunity to redefine the Republican Party as Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower had done. This would require a global vision, financial discipline and a sense of confidence reflecting the best in American idealism.

The choice of Gov. Sarah Palin as a running mate, and the resultant shallow campaign based on fear and suspicion, looks frighteningly similar to the politics of Karl Rove.

Sen. Barack Obama arrived on the political scene as a wind of freshness, unity and idealism. He saw America as it could be if we reached across all divides. This long, grueling campaign has revealed a remarkably disciplined and focused leader who has the potential to become a truly great president.

President John F. Kennedy spoke of the opportunity of America to pass the torch of leadership to a new generation. This is entirely appropriate for today's history, in that we need the benefit of a longer-term vision on the compelling issues of our time, ranging from global warming to exercising financial discipline.

Obama is the right choice for these challenging times.

Arne H. Carlson was governor of Minnesota from 1991 to 1999.