McCain and Obama are evidently locked in a monumental pissing contest battle of political wits over the appropriate response to our mounting economic crisis. McCain wants to call off Friday’s debate and suspend campaigning to formulate a bi-partisan recovery plan. Obama begs to differ. Unlike, say, Ezra Klein, I don’t think either candidate can claim the moral high ground here. McCain, down in nearly every poll, has a tremendous incentive to do something dramatic – the proverbial “game-changer” (How I loathe electoral colloquialisms) – while Obama’s comfortable lead is an eloquent argument in favor of him staying the course.
That said, I do think Obama is right on the merits of the issue. In the midst of our self-inflicted crisis, does McCain bring some vast reserve of financial expertise to the table? Ummm, no . . . Aside from vague mutterings about “protecting the taxpayer,” has McCain put forward any constructive alternative to the proposed bailout? Not even close. I’m more convinced than ever that the McCain camp has seized on the bailout debate as a strategic opportunity. The proposal will inevitably get rammed through the legislature in some form or another, but McCain will get to posture as the taxpayers’ guardian at the expense of real oversight. Given the fact that one of these men will take the reins of government within a couple of months, voters should probably get a chance to actually evaluate their respective economic proposals. I’m not sure how we’re supposed to do that if both candidates stop talking.
It’s also worth noting that if McCain really believed the financial crisis merits a pause in the campaign, he would have approached Obama privately instead of making histrionic public announcements. Any statement that “calls on” Congress and your opponent to follow your lead is transparently self-interested.
UPDATE: C’mon Rod Dreher – don’t fall for this hokum! You’re better than that!
UPDATE II: Time’s Amy Sullivan raises a good point about low-information voters and the importance of the debates.
UPDATE IV: National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru says what I said, but better.
UPDATE V: I just can’t quit you, Sullivan. Nice catch, though.
UPDATE VI: The Weekly Standard says the move plays to McCain’s strengths:
Policy aside, however, this is McCain’s ballgame. Though I have not often agreed with the ends for which he has brought together both sides of the aisle in the past, if there’s one person who can form a coalition to pass something acceptable, he’s the guy. The picture of McCain at work on the Hill on a truly tough problem in a truly bipartisan way will likely put independents in mind of the McCain they like.
The atmospherics may be favorable, but “mavericky-ness” is a value-neutral characteristic. If McCain uses his legislative voodoo to railroad through $700 gazillion in corporate welfare, will conservatives still praise his independent streak? I think we’ve seen how this movie ends . . .