McCain's Odd Bedfellow

Washington Matters

McCain's Odd Bedfellow

Having joined himself at the hip with President Bush on so many issues (Iraq and making the tax cuts permanent, most prominently), John McCain needs every opportunity to distance himself from a president who's approval ratings are stuck below 30%. But in choosing the administration's financial rescue plan as his vehicle, he creates a slightly different problem -- he agrees with opponent Barack Obama on the package's biggest flaws.

Obama and McCain both agree that there should be strong congressional oversight of the bailout operation and that the pay of executives of bailed-out firms should be limited. McCain gave serious thought to not just criticizing Bush's plan , but to clearly separating himself from both Bush and Obama by casting a vote against  the package. He'd certainly prove himself a maverick who stuck a populist finger in the eye of Wall Street in the name of the little guy who will get no such bailout.

But in the end, it appears unlikely McCain will go that far. The risk is too extreme.

First, Bush, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, most of the congressional leadership of both parties and most economists are warning that failure to act soon and substantively puts the entire economy at risk. In an election where judgment and the economy are two of the hottest issues, McCain would be making a very heavy bet that could turn against him. Second, while McCain would be separating himself from Bush, he would be allying himself with some of the most conservative elements of his party who have been highly critical, including former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. That would alienate some of the independents and moderates McCain is trying so hard to win over. They, most of all, are turned off by strong ideologies of any stripe and many were dismayed by the conservative tilt of the Congress for most of the Bush presidency.