If Barack Obama doesn’t open the debate with some variation of “John McCain was for this debate before he was against it,” he doesn’t deserve to be president. It’s a lay-up.
Yesterday, I asked what would happen if McCain’s decision to suspend his campaign started to yield actual political risk. What if John McCain got stuck in Washington for weeks working on the bailout deal while Barack Obama ran for president? But, duh, McCain never suspended his campaign. The ads never came down, the surrogates never stopped appearing on cable to attack, McCain never stopped doing interviews or giving speeches. Oh, and he’ll be doing a town hall meeting Sunday morning on ABC.
McCain’s move to ”suspend” apparently amounted to nothing more than ditching an interview with Dave Letterman for an interview with Katie Couric, and sacrificing one day of debate preparation (he wouldn’t have been on the trail yesterday anyway) to sit in Washington and twiddle his thumbs. In short, what happened when McCain’s decision to suspend his campaign– and skip tonight’s debate– started yielding political risk is that John McCain folded like a cheap tent.
It’s clear that on Wednesday the McCain campaign thought the bailout hearings were a done deal, and indeed they looked that way, with Congress being pressured to finalize the bill by the end of the week. The plan was for McCain to ride in on a white horse, show up to Washington for a day or two, and stand triumphantly next to the President and congressional leaders on Friday as the deal was officially passed. But the minute McCain announced his decision to head to Washington, the bailout negotiations began to devolve into political squabbling and stall.
I actually assumed the McCain campaign had some kind of exit strategy, in case the hearings went past this week. I assumed they had some pre-prepared excuse for McCain to leave the bailout hearings he vowed he would never leave and get back on the campaign trail. But obviously– shockingly– they did not, as their statement released today shows:
[John McCain] is optimistic that there has been significant progress toward a bipartisan agreement now that there is a framework for all parties to be represented in negotiations, including Representative Blunt as a designated negotiator for House Republicans. The McCain campaign is resuming all activities and the Senator will travel to the debate this afternoon.
Translation: “After vowing to lock himself in a room with Congress for 100 hours until this bailout deal was done, John McCain went to Washington, poked around for a few hours, and is now ‘optimistic that there has been significant progress,’ despite the bill by all accounts crashing and burning on Thursday before his eyes. Oh, and the McCain campaign is now resuming all activities– speeches, interviews, ads– all the activities we were doing yesterday. Thank you, America, for falling for our temporary distraction and not talking about the $15,000 a month our campaign manager Rick Davis was receiving from Freddie Mac or Sarah Palin’s disasterous interview with Katie Couric. You may now resume looking that way.”
The last three days are the clearest indication of the kind of president John McCain would be: impulsive, unpredictable, dishonest, and spineless. In the face of crisis, in a test of leadership, it’s hard to imagine a weaker, more erratic, more desperate response. The man who preaches “never surrender” surrendered. The man who sacrificed five years in Vietnam couldn’t sacrifice two days off the campaign trail for a cause he vowed to fight for. The man who promises “country first” put his political campaign smack in the path of American economic progress so he could take the credit.
It is in fact Barack Obama who deserves a world of credit for standing firm and calling McCain’s bluff. If he follows it up with a strong performance in tonight’s debate, historians will likely point to today as the day the election was won.