Thursday, September 25, 2008

McCain suspends campaign and cancels debate with Obama.

I'm not sure who this is supposed to fool, but McCain's gone for it anyway. The man who said, a matter of days ago, that the American economy was "fundamentally strong" only to decide within hours that it was actually in crisis, has now decided that things are so bad that he has to suspend his election campaign until Congress has decided upon a response and, to that end, he's cancelled his debate with Barack Obama.

Quite why McCain - who is not president, but merely a candidate for the presidency - finds his own presence so vital at this juncture is simply baffling. I can only imagine that, with his poll numbers tanking at this point, that he has decided to engage in quite the worst piece of gesture politics which I have ever seen.

Ezra Klein has laid out how we came to this point:

At 8am this morning, Barack Obama called John McCain and asked that the two collaborate on a statement on the bailout. The call was not announced to the press. At 2:30pm, McCain called back and accepted. The initiative made sense: Without some unity from the two campaigns, some linkage of their fortunes, the two parties would be too paralyzed attempting to ratfuck each other to actually pass a bailout proposal. The statement, meant to remove the interests of the two presidential candidates, is forthcoming.

Later in the day, John McCain surprised the Obama campaign by going before the press and announcing a cessation of the campaign and a delay in the debate. There was no effort to plan a coordinated action with the other camp. Rather, he publicly demanded that Barack Obama follow suit. McCain promised that he would return to Washington to work on the bill. The drama of the negotiations will now be combined with the drama of the presidential campaign. The leadership structure of the Senate Republicans is suddenly unclear. No one quite knows what effect the presence of two presidential candidates -- and their attendant political incentives, media strategies, and advisers -- will have on the process.

The contrast here is a clear one. Obama argued that the presidential candidates should recede into the background, agree on a common position and let Congress work without the impediment. It was a bipartisan stunt meant to construct a protected space for the congressional negotiations, where they could proceed without relative freedom from the presidential contest.

McCain loudly proclaimed the need to set aside politics, focused cameras by demanding a suspension of the debates, and promised that both candidates would fully insert themselves and their entourages and their media power and their electoral interests into the negotiations. The McCain campaign has politicized the bailout debate even as it volubly denounces politics. It is astonishingly reckless.
It is this astonishing recklessness which deserves to bury McCain's campaign even more than the current poll numbers suggest.

It's clear that Obama is not buying it and wants the debate to go ahead:

“I believe we should continue to have the debate,” he just said. “I believe it makes sense for us to present ourselves to the American people.”

“Obviously if it turns out that we need to be in Washington, we’ve both got big planes, we’ve painted our slogan on the side of them,” Obama also said. “They can get us from Washington to Mississippi pretty quickly.” The debate is set to take place in Mississippi.

The notion that McCain cannot take part in the debate because the country is in financial crisis is simply laughable. Is he seriously now claiming that he cannot walk and chew gum at the same time?

And, as was to expected ever since McCain made this strange announcement, he now wants to postpone the VP debates as well, which if Palin's appearance with Couric was any indication of her readiness, comes as no surprise.

McCain's campaign is now in utter turmoil, with Rick Davis on the ropes over money his firm has been taking from Freddie Mac, polls showing McCain trailing Obama 52 percent to 43 percent among likely voters, and now this: a suspension of the campaign and a delay in the debates.

The problem for McCain is that this looks like exactly what it is. These are the desperate tactics of a desperate man who will put himself and his campaign before his country every single time.

By pretending that everything has to stop in order to fix an economy that he claimed was "fundamentally strong" only last week, McCain hopes he can suspend all questions about Rick Davis and show himself as a sort of action man taking the lead and the moral high ground.

The problem for McCain is that it really doesn't look that way. Apart from the fact that he's saying he's not capable of doing two things at the one time, he actually looks as if he's running away.

This is pathetic. Truly pathetic. The McCain campaign is coming apart in front of our eyes. You can't claim that you are the next leader of the free world if you run away from debates in the middle of a financial crisis. This isn't being presidential, this is pulling off one of the most audacious pieces of political theatre I think I have ever seen, and hoping that the people of the US are too stupid to work out what it is that you are doing. I think everyone can see quite clearly what McCain is doing.

He's doing what he always does when his back is to the wall. He pulls off a gimmick, a stunt. That's not leadership, that's reckless desperation. McCain's problem is that it isn't even subtle. It looks like exactly what it is.

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