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'The blessings of liberty'

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Over the last several weeks, we have used this space to articulate our own values and those that have historically defined our nation. This editorial concludes a series of nine, and moves us to the next phase of our rumination on the 2008 presidential campaign, focusing on the candidates themselves.

Before we make that turn, though, a brief reprise of our approach thus far. We have attempted to look at the United States through the prism of its founding principles -- to imagine a more perfect union devoted to life, liberty and justice, the pursuit of happiness, the powers of the earth, domestic tranquillity, the general welfare and the common defense. Such a nation, we are happy to report, is indeed visible, if sometimes hard to see.

From our exploration of these distinctly American principles, we have compiled a set of ideas that frame our view of the election. We support a compassionate immigration policy that welcomes new arrivals and extends this nation's diversity. We champion a woman's right to choose to have an abortion and deplore an overbearing state that presumes to impose capital punishment. We demand a government that is respectful of science and intelligent in its protection of the environment. We call for new leadership in education and new commitment to alleviating poverty, as well as sensible approaches to taxes and spending. We are dismayed at the erosion of liberty presided over by the present administration, which has spent these last seven years weakening the nation's security, piling on debt, smirking over global warming and sowing divisiveness for political gain.

The Bush administration soon will be consigned to history, and not a moment too soon. The end of this cynical, mean-spirited presidency provides the opportunity for a renewal of generosity and hope, for a widening of political and cultural horizons, for a return to strength tempered by humility, for an era of decency and mutual respect rather than the blunt exercise of force.

That will be the mission of the next president. Our challenge -- as readers, as journalists, as Americans -- is to select that man or woman with care, acknowledging that it is not as simple as merely laying out a list of issues and seeing who matches up best. There are, for instance, many Americans who will appreciate Rudolph W. Giuliani's support for abortion rights and tolerance of gays -- we are among them -- but who will wonder whether the irascible former New York City mayor has the temperament for the presidency. And many who would cheer the election of the nation's first female president will nevertheless harbor doubts about whether Hillary Rodham Clinton is the right candidate to break that barrier.

In the coming weeks, we will take our measure of the candidates and make our selection, as will you. This is a significant moment in the history of The Times, which last endorsed a presidential candidate in 1972 (Richard Nixon, for those keeping score), and in the life of the nation, which should welcome the chance to chart a new direction. Given that, we hope to enlist not just your interest but your participation. Please tell us who you support for president and why; we'd like to hear your views before we settle on our own, so take a moment to write, or e-mail us at opinionla@latimes.com. We'll post the responses, so you can compare your thoughts to those of other readers. Once we've settled on our favorites, we'll endorse the candidates we most admireand invite you to respond again.

As we have put together this series of editorials, we have considered the enduring words of America's founders alongside the positions of its current leaders. So it seems fitting to close with Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and staunch advocate of freedom. It was Jefferson who remarked in a letterin 1796 that "timid men ... prefer the calm of despotism to the boisterous sea of liberty."

And indeed, one characteristic of the Bush administration has been its wearying appeal to the weak, to those who are threatened by energetic political expression and instead take refuge in the slow forfeit of their rights; to those too timid to trust that hateful speech is best rebutted by more speech, not by squelching dissent; to those so unnerved by terrorism that they would condone torture. We live in a nation that once had the confidence to defend the speech and association rights of American communists even as it fought their sponsors and supporters abroad. Yet that same nation now flinches at the threat posed by a high school student who displays a banner that reads, nonsensically, "BONG HiTS 4 JESUS."

That is a depressing relinquishment of what has given the United States its place in history. We hope, with fervent optimism, for a president who will embrace our defining love of liberty and who will relish, not disdain, its many blessings.

The complete "American Values" series can be found at latimes.com/values08.

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