More importantly, I feel that McCain's decision here can be seen, not only as politically motivated and inspired, but as a seat-of-the-pants overreaction -the kind of impulsive act that McCain likes to think inspires people to admire him as a maverick, but that more realistically causes us to wonder about his judgment in a crisis. It communicates a sense of panic at a difficult time - and it contrasts markedly with the words of a great American president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who, when the US faced an even more daunting crisis as the Great Depression was under way, spoke of how "the only thing we have to fear is, fear itself."
In risky move, McCain cancels debate appearance
The GOP candidate wants to concentrate on getting a financial bailout through Congress, but the economy's woes have so far favored Democrats.
By Peter Grier | Staff writer / September 24, 2008 edition
Reporter Alexandra Marks talks with csmonitor.com's Pat Murphy about reaction to Senator McCain's canceling his debate appearance in Oxford, Miss.
John McCain may be the first presidential candidate in US history to become as notable for canceling events as for holding them.
Senator McCain postponed the beginning of the Republican National Convention when hurricane Gustav threatened the Gulf Coast. Now he wants to call off the presidential debate scheduled for Friday, so that he (and rival Barack Obama) can return to Washington to focus on the nation’s financial problems.
“It has become clear that no consensus has developed to support the administration’s [bailout] proposal,” said McCain in a statement. “I do not believe that the plan on the table will pass as it currently stands, and we are running out of time.”
In political terms, this move could be a huge risk for the GOP nominee. He is thrusting himself into the center of an issue on which he has struggled to explain himself to voters. It only emphasizes that the economy is far and away the No. 1 issue in the election – and voters generally say that they trust Democrats more than Republicans to handle the economy well.
In addition, it’s not clear that the bailout proposal is in fact sinking with all hands on board.
It is true that lawmakers have been peppering Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke with complaints that the plan helps Wall Street, not Main Street. And the administration has already signaled that it will retreat on some issues, notably agreeing with the Democrats’ insistence that any financial bailout contain some curbs on excessive executive pay.
But congressional leaders generally have indicated that they foresee passage of some kind of plan in the reasonably near future.
“We’re moving in a productive direction,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Wednesday.
It’s also possible, though, that McCain’s move will be seen by voters as an action undertaken by a forceful leader in a crisis. A Pew Research Center poll shows that Americans back the administration’s $700 billion bailout plan by a 2-to-1 margin (although a Rasmussen Reports telephone survey showed a more even split).
It was not immediately clear whether Senator Obama had agreed to the debate’s cancellation. Obama spokesman Bill Burton said that McCain had made a unilateral statement of his intentions moments after agreeing to joint action in support of the Treasury plan.
In Oxford, Miss. where Friday’s debate was to be held, officials with the Commission on Presidential Debates were stunned.
“The university has gone all out for this and the town has gone all out,” said one debate official, who was not authorized to speak to the press . “It will be an absolute tragedy if they call it off now.”
In Washington, Senate majority leader Harry Reid also criticized the idea of candidates trying to move the process forward. “It would not be helpful at this time to have them come back during these negotiations and risk injecting presidential politics into this process,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “We need leadership; not a campaign photo op.”
President Bush is set to address the nation on Wednesday evening on the bailout’s importance.
If McCain, Obama, and Mr. Bush agree to some sort of joint front or conference pushing aid for the financial system, it could mark a crucial push for the plan. At the least, the move on the debates marks another twist in a campaign that has been the most unpredictable in a generation.
Make that two generations.
– Staff writer Alexandra Marks contributed to this report from Oxford, Miss.