When Massachusetts voters go to the polls on Tuesday to elect a successor to the late Senator Edward Kennedy, they face a choice that is as clear as the difference between black and white.
The Democratic nominee, Attorney General Martha Coakley, is a well-tested public servant who has won office both locally as the district attorney for the state's most populous county, Middlesex, and statewide as the commonwealth's top law-enforcement and consumer-protection official.
The Republican candidate, Scott Brown, a state senator, represents a suburban district outside of Boston and is known not for any original legislative thinking but for his well-pressed public persona.
And then there is independent candidate Joseph Kennedy (no relation to the senator), who has waged a traction-less campaign that underscores his political insignificance.
Coakley is a common-sense progressive focused on the host of issues posed by the ongoing economic crisis, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the challenges of the future.
Brown is a know-nothing reactionary, a cookie-cutter conservative with the political imagination of a George W. Bush. He is committed to an array of positions that would return the nation to the dismal days of the Bush-Cheney years. He's wedded to a failed past and hides from the perils of the future.
The choice is clear. The Phoenix urges citizens to vote for Coakley. She is the best choice for Massachusetts and the smartest choice for the nation.
In interviews, literature, speeches, and three televised debates, the two viable candidates have laid out their differences with clarity.
On health care, Coakley would vote for extending coverage to millions of Americans who currently live without that basic human need. Brown — who favored such reform when Massachusetts adopted it in 2006 — now would vote against it.
On the economy, Coakley would continue targeted federal investment to spur jobs. Brown would take the mindless right-wing approach of cutting taxes to the wealthy.
On regulation, Coakley would vote for policing the financial industry, and would fight — as she has as attorney general — to protect consumers from predatory institutions. Brown would oppose new regulations and seek to roll back those that exist. He is the candidate of Wall Street running amok.
On basic individual rights, Coakley would protect a woman's reproductive choice; fight for gay men and women to marry and serve openly in the armed forces; and oppose the death penalty. Brown waffles on choice and is a Neanderthal on the other issues.
On the environment, Coakley would aggressively combat climate change. Brown wants to ignore the problem. He prefers to wait and see.
On fighting terrorism, Coakley would acknowledge and respect national and international law, as well as human decency. Brown favors international arrogance and torture.
On the war in Afghanistan, Coakley — opposing President Barack Obama — would wind down the conflict and bring home our troops. Brown, himself a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard, would continue sending more of our soldiers there needlessly, and would doubtless take a similarly hawkish approach to future conflicts.
On immigration, Coakley would reform our system to ensure illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. Brown would deny services to immigrants and reject reform.