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Jack Simpson - Voters should really listen to candidates

It won't be long before each of us will be at the polls making our choice of a presidential candidate. Who will it be?

How do we account for the meteoric rise of Sen. Barack Obama? He has appeared on the scene giving young, black Americans hope that they truly can run for high office. This is a good thing. Why have so many of the younger generation embraced him? Is it his message or his claim to bring change? Is he a mere cult figure?

Those who study Obama's record and his background are more cautious. He has only served a short time as a U.S. senator, and his Illinois state legislative voting record is not all that impressive. Maybe his popularity has to do with where he now stands in history. He has a chance to become the first African-American president of the United States of America. This is quite an impressive thing.

So how did Obama reach this favored place with so many lingering questions about his connections to Islam, Louis Farrakhan, Malcolm X, and the Rev. Wright of "God Damn America" fame? What about his dealings with Chicago slum-landlord Tony Rezko and with former Weather Underground members William Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn? Ayer's Woods Fund was once administered by Obama, and he is reported to have approved grants for the Arab American Action Network. The senator himself wrote about how impressed he was with the writings of Malcolm X.

When questions arose about past associations, Obama repudiated some of these and claims to have moved on. It is possible to "change," but listeners still do not really know what Obama means by change. He has presented himself as a citizen of the world and has relied upon his speaking ability and the power of his personality to propel him into his place of high standing among many voters. It is not really about what the senator says that concerns older voters; it is about what he does not say. Is he talking about a redistribution of wealth?

Each voter probably hopes that Obama means what he says about serving all of the people. They hope he isn't running because he is bitter and wants to correct imagined wrongs inflicted over the years upon his race and his followers. This is why his past associations deserve scrutiny. How much have his mentors, teachers, family, educational experiences and advisors influenced his views and helped shape his current policies?

Already there is too much negativity in campaigns. It is our hope that Obama and his newly chosen vice presidential candidate, Joe Biden, will stick to debating the issues and offer constructive solutions to our national problems. Voters who wish to cast intelligent ballots will have to become more inquisitive - read, listen and talk to family and friends about the choices and the consequences.

Veterans probably want a leader who sees our flag as a symbol of heritage rather than as a symbol of slavery. Candidates must clarify their message to the people and not hope to be elected upon their appearance and ability to shoot-the-bull. Electing a president on blind faith could further endanger our economy and our national security.

Jack Simpson is a former educator, veteran, author, and a law enforcement officer. His column appears each Friday.