Wednesday, September 24, 2008

McCain, Katrina and Suspending the Campaign

When asked about President Bush's response to Katrina, Senator McCain said "In all candor, If I'd have been President of the United States I'd have ordered the plane landed at the nearest Air Force base and I'd have been over here."

Apologies for not finding a cleaner video of McCain's statement. McCain's statement starts 10 seconds into the video and is over by 19 seconds.

In the hours and days after the levees broke in New Orleans, FEMA and numerous aid organizations were doing the best they could (which, admittedly, wasn't very good) trying to overcome huge logistical hurdles to deliver help to the victims of the tragedy. McCain's solution to the problem was to drop a Presidential motorcade into the middle of the situation, making these logistical hurdles much bigger. McCain placed a high value on a good photo op and giving the appearance of taking action, even if his actions would, in fact, make the problem worse.

Why am I talking about this today? John McCain has once again demonstrated his fetish for "doing something", even if that action would in fact make things worse. McCain announced this afternoon that he is suspending his campaign so that he can go to Washington to try to negotiate an agreement on the Wall Street bailout. Both his stated plan and the way he went about announcing it demonstrate that his true goal is "looking like a leader" and scoring cheap political points.

In his statement, McCain said:
I am calling on the president to convene a meeting with the leadership from both houses of Congress, including Senator Obama and myself. It is time for both parties to come together to solve this problem. We must meet as Americans, not as Democrats or Republicans, and we must meet until this crisis is resolved.
So your goal is to get politics out of the negotiations, and you decide that the best way to go about it is to involve both presidential candidates directly in the talks, like a presidential motorcade in the middle of a disaster area, less than 6 weeks before the election? Brilliant...

And the way that he went about announcing this plan is completely inconsistent with trying to eliminate politics from the process. Earlier today, Obama called McCain to propose a joint statement of commonly held positions regarding the bailout. McCain responded with a tactical decision to make a unilateral announcement that he is suspending his campaign to go to Washington to negotiate, which puts a big "McCain/Palin" stamp on the idea. Obama can't very well follow along without looking like he's, well, following along. Putting Obama in that position demonstrates that McCain's goal is not bipartisan problem-solving, but instead is partisan advantage.

McCain's announcement combines a misguided strategy (injecting presidential politics into the bailout negotiations) with combative, partisan tactics (making a call for bipartisanship himself, on the very same day where his opponent reached out to him to propose a joint statement). Obama's refusal to play along highlights the gimmicky, desperate nature of McCain's proposal.

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