Thursday, September 25, 2008

McCain's Play

On Monday, I blogged the following about the as yet undebated bailout plan:
[I]t looks more and more like a plan to somehow thwart Obama's run for the White House. I am not smart to have figured it out, yet, but I am sure somebody smarter than me will find an explanation before long.

I smelled a rat, but I could not see things clearly. But at about 8 p.m. tonight, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) announced that House Republicans had walked out of the evening session that had been called to reconcile the differences that had emerged in the afternoon, after the "agreement in principle" that the parties seemed to have found in the morning had started to crumble.

Immediately afterward, CNN reported that soon after this afternoon's White House meeting with President Bush, congressional leaders, and his presidential rival, Sen. Obama, Sen. McCain went to talk to House Republicans who had expressed doubts on the agreement. A few hours later came Rep. Frank's announcement that talks had ended unproductively and that they will resume tomorrow morning.

It did not take long to put two and two together: McCain did not come to Washington to help an agreement; he came to kill it. After all, he is the same person who said, back in January: "The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should" (as reported by Think Progress). And who, on Tuesday, said that he had not yet read the two and a half pages Paulson report. (Once again, via Think Progress.) So what could he possibly contribute to the solution of the greatest financial crisis this country has seen since The Great Depression?

And now that Sen. McCain's ploy is evident, Sen. Obama finds himself in a no-win situation.

He can choose to go to Mississippi alone for Friday night's debate. If he does, I can almost guarantee you that House Republicans will announce, right before or right after the non-debate, that Sen. McCain was instrumental in convincing them to agree to a/the bailout plan that they had already agreed to, in principle, 24 hours earlier. And by the way, they will add, where is Obama in a time of crisis?

If Democrats should reject the newly drafted "McCain resolution" proposed by House Republican, they would be accused of playing politics at a time when the country needs true leadership. And we would never hear the end of how Sen. McCain put "Country First" while his opponent was debating himself in Mississippi.

The alternative is only slightly less undesirable. Sen. Obama could go along with Sen. McCain and postpone or cancel the debate to stay in Washington, which would kill the momentum his campaign has gained this week in virtually all polls.

Canceling, or postponing the debate, would be a win for Sen. McCain and a definite loss for Sen. Obama, as the debate could not have come at a worse time for Sen. McCain. The dip his poll numbers have taken is paralleled only by the worsening of the financial crisis. McCain needs a game changer to resurrect a wilting campaign. The added benefit, as some have already suggested, is that the make-up date for the missed presidential debate might very well be next Wednesday, the date originally reserved for the vice-presidential debate. It would spare the McCain/Palin ticket the certain embarrassment that Palin would bring upon herself with answers like "I can see Russia from Alaska, which makes me a foreign policy expert" or "I don't have that info with me, but I will get back to you, Gwen."

Either way, McCain has nothing to lose.

Trust me, this is exactly what his campaign advisers had in mind when they made McCain announce that he would suspend his campaign to take care of the financial crisis in Washington. Some observers called the decision a Hail Mary pass. In fact, it was a gadget play all along.

UPDATE: McCain's impulsiveness being what it is, he chose a third option, which I did not contemplate in my original post. He is, after all, going to debate Obama, even though the financial crisis has not been solved. Call it a flip-flop, if you like, or just another chapter in the myth of the maverick. Erratic, he is indeed.

Let the debate begin.

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