On the merits, although McCain is a smarter and more attractive man than W, the GOP has forfeited any claim on higher office. McCain forfeits his claim because he has so completely drunk the neocon interventionist Kool-aid that he is a positive danger to the country and the world ("We are all Georgians"). McCain muffed his last opportunity when he went along with the disastrous bailout plan. Had he taken a populist stand there, it might have galvanized support; like many others, he allowed himself to be spooked. Anti-tax is not a substitute for wisdom and courage on the virtual socialization of the financial sector for the benefit of the rentier class. Although Sarah Palin is no student of history, I don't share the view that she was a terrible choice. She has turned out to be a political rockstar, a heroine to her supporters and a bugbear to her detractors. Anyone whom Gloria Steinem hates, after all, can't be all bad. Palin has a future.
Obama is, like McCain, an attractive personality. To the extent he's not merely a cipher, he's far to the left of the country. The one consolation is, he knows it, and is temperamentally cautious. Obama is, however, quite wrongheaded on almost every issue of consequence. His views do not even offer a contrast to the interventionism of the GOP, except that he may employ his statism to favor the ordinary folk in a few ways, more than the super-rich. Less bellicose and more cautious though he is compared to Bush and McCain, Obama seems to have a different stylistic but not strategic vision.
It is the messianism of Obama's movement that is most troubling. It has often been said that if we get dictatorship in this country it will be in the name of tolerance and inclusion. Aside from his likely majorities in both houses of Congress, there are troubling signs of a collectivist mass movement in Obamamania, and signs among his followers of a quick trigger figure for demonization and suppression of his opponents. His own impulses, one hopes, are better than that, so that even though he stands to inherit an imperial Presidency with few checks or balances, the Republic will survive even a new burst of liberalism.
I have adopted enough pessimism and enough of the Stoic worldview that I will not be disappointed. I expect nothing.