THE STAKES…. Looking back over the last couple of months, as the general election phase of the campaign began in earnest, one of my very favorite quotes came from McCain campaign manager Rick Davis: “This election is not about issues.”

Here at the Washington Monthly, we beg to differ. Indeed, we see the 2008 presidential election as the most important in a generation, and one that must be about the very issues Davis would prefer voters ignore.

To that end, the Monthly is presenting “The Stakes, 2008,” the cover package of our new issue.

Trying to predict a candidate’s performance in office based on what he or she has done in the past, or said on the campaign trail, is a notoriously tricky business. Few people would have guessed that the Texas governor who inveighed against “using our troops as nation builders” during his first debate with Al Gore in 2000 would attempt to entirely remake a large swath of the Middle East two and a half years later. On the other hand, a closer scrutiny of George W. Bush’s environmental record in Texas would have helped us anticipate his flat-footed response to global warming — and some important elements of his leadership style. The bottom line: you can’t predict the future, but you can try to avoid nasty surprises.

With this in mind, we asked eight of our contributing editors to consider the looming challenges that America is likely to face — in the economy, education, the courts, and other areas — during an Obama or McCain presidency, and how, based on what we know about the two men, they are likely to handle them.

“The Stakes, 2008,” which is now online, features essays by Jonathan Alter, James Fallows, Nicholas Lemann, and other esteemed Washington Monthly contributing editors.

Take a look. You’ll be glad you did.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.