Presidential candidates must deal with election processes as they are, so it is not their fault that they must raise huge sums of money, travel thousands of miles and shake multiple hands. But the reigning standard of media judgment has more to do with style than substance, with chemistry than thought, with personality than character.

It is not my objective to dwell on these unavoidable aspects of present-day politics or even to lament their prominence. Rather, it is to consider the state of the nation and recall a candidate who never lost sight of the nation's needs. It suffices to say that horse-race news coverage flattens the reality of our domestic and international situation and encourages purely personal voter reactions to the candidates and the poses they strike.

America is safe and prosperous now, but this situation cannot be maintained without capable leadership that understands what policies are required. Since the Islamist attack on American cities six and one half years ago, we have been spared the loss of any more lives or property on our soil.

This is not an accident. The current administration faced the challenge, recognizing that the easy way of the past was no longer defensible or effective. We have been dealing with our enemies by tracking their movements, listening in on their communications, following the movement of their finances and, of course, waging war on them in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Our economy is fundamentally sound, with steady growth, low unemployment and expanding opportunities. This was made possible by federal legislation which reduced the rate at which incomes are taxed, freeing up money for investment and the generation of new jobs.

The number of baby killings via abortion has gone down to the lowest level in 30 years. The current administration has given no support to the abortion industry and resisted the pressure to fund embryonic stem cell research until the recent scientific breakthrough by which such cells can be generated without killing young human beings.

A serious presidential candidate would be focused continually on these and other pressing issues so that the voting public would have a basis on which to make an intelligent choice for President. Even if the candidate did not bring these issues up at every appearance, he should be inseparable from them.

At least one candidate both spoke a lot and spoke little. That was Abraham Lincoln, who opposed attempts to spread slavery into western territories six years before he ran for president. The Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, which permitted slave owners to extend their dominions in the Louisiana Territory for the first time in more than 30 years, and the Dred Scott decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that Congress, under the Constitution, could not keep slavery out of the territories, impelled Lincoln to speak out against the wholesale corruption of our republican form of government and denial of fundamental liberties.

Lincoln was criticized for constantly harping on his anti-slavery theme. He responded this way: "I'll stop talking about it when everyone else stops talking about it." He did not make slavery an issue, but its defenders and apologists, who, by Lincoln's determined opposition, had to overcome the nation's convictions on equal rights and self government.

Lincoln understood the arts of politics. Indeed, he spent so many years of his life in politics he could be considered something of a political hack. Like every good politician and orator, he appealed to the interests and was mindful of the prejudices of his fellow citizens. But he never flattered them or pandered. He certainly did not appeal to class envy or stir up racial animosity.

The same man who spent six years talking about the danger from the spread of slavery said little during the presidential campaign of 1860. He gave one remarkable speech in New York on the intentions of the founding fathers regarding slavery. That was intended to convince easterners that this country bumpkin was neither too conservative nor too radical to take up the anti-slavery cause, but fully understood the issue and had the soundest approach to dealing with it.

Otherwise, respecting the rebellious southerners who could not distinguish Lincoln from radical abolitionists, the first successful Republican candidate for President relied upon the record of his many speeches and his reputation for moderation and fairness. He did not barnstorm the country but left the campaigning to his supporters.

I am not suggesting that the presidential candidates today should stop giving speeches or campaigning. But I am saying that these can be overdone, particularly if they do not cast much light on where candidates stand on the major issues or, worse, if they constantly redefine themselves in each state.

The greatest good that the current candidates for president could do would be to make clear not how sensitive, authentic, clever or changeable they are, but emphasize how they are going to preserve our security, safeguard our economy, and protect the rights of the most defenseless among us.

ABOUT THE WRITER Richard Reeb taught political science, philosophy and journalism at Barstow College from 1970 to 2003. He is the author of "Taking Journalism Seriously: `Objectivity' as a Partisan Cause" (University Press of America, 1999). He can be contacted at rhreeb@verizon.net.