A Bold Move That Makes No Sense
John McCain tried to show the American people yesterday that he lives by his campaign slogan of "Country First." He suspended his campaign, called for a postponement of the first debate and announced plans to fly to Washington to work on the bailout. Voters will decide for themselves whether they approve, but I find myself agreeing with the unnamed Republican strategist quoted in The Washington Post today: I don't get it at all.
McCain's rationale is that this is a crisis akin to 9/11 and that he and Barack Obama should shun politics for a bipartisan approach. That makes no sense. If this is a crisis like 9/11, why didn't McCain fly to Washington last week when the need for intervention first became clear? He could have at least flown there last night instead of waiting until after he gave a speech in New York this morning. If this is a serious crisis, why was his first reaction to declare that the fundamentals of the economy were sound? What can he and Obama add to the negotiations that have been under way for days and finally seem to be making headway? Why isn't he appealing for calm instead of acting like the world is ending? And what can he and Obama do in Washington that they haven't already done by phone and through their emissaries?
The hard truth is there is no way to suspend politics six weeks before Election Day. McCain's hasty trip to Washington only moves the campaign to the Capitol and injects the campaign into the negotiations, making an agreement harder, not easier, to reach. It's not as though McCain or Obama bring any expertise to the talks. What they can do is set out their principles and express support for the process, which can best be done from outside Washington.
Given that McCain's move came after a series of polls showed he was in trouble on the economy rather than when the crisis first broke, it's hard to believe that politics wasn't the motivating factor in his decision. His actions do more to undercut his slogan of "Country First" than to underscore it.
That's also the case with McCain's call to cancel tomorrow's debate. If the American people need to know that the candidates agree there is a crisis that requires urgent action, what better way than to make those arguments in a debate that millions of Americans plan to watch? And McCain's suggestion that it be postponed to next week, replacing the vice presidential debate, only adds to the feeling that McCain's people are afraid to let Palin off the leash they've put her on, a leash that insults not only to the public, but her as a candidate and women as a group. What could be more sexist than to perpetuate the notion that they don't trust her, that they have too little confidence in her?
It seems likely that McCain won't back down and the debate will have to be canceled. But if that's the case, why not move up the vice presidential debate to fill the slot? Palin shouldn't need any time to prepare. After all, she's supposed to be ready to step in for McCain at a moment's notice.