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Starting Gate: No Winners In Political Meltdown

Gauging the political impact of the chaos that reins at the moment in Washington and on Wall Street should be pretty easy. Failure to pass the financial bailout package that the administration requested demonstrated either a failure of government at all levels or a triumph of democracy and the will of the people, depending on what one's view of the package is. Certainly, it was a failure of leadership given the fact that the Republican administration and the Democratic-led House failed to convince a bare majority to support it.

A recent CBS News/New York Times poll found that while about 42 percent of voters supported passage of a bailout, 46 percent opposed it. Given the stark warnings President Bush issued in his speech to the nation last week about the consequences of doing nothing, yesterday's bailout blowup underscores just how hesitant members of congress – or, more accurately, their constituents – are to get on board with him.

With Election Day exactly five weeks off, the economic situation is almost certainly going to dominate voter's decision. In the big picture, the current environment would seem to decisively benefit Barack Obama for a variety of reasons. The Democrat has gotten this close to the White House largely riding a wave of desire for "change," for something different and a breath of fresh air into Washington.

His party traditionally is seen more as the champion of the little guy, or "main street," and the massive failure of Wall Street tilts the table even further in his direction. Obama has floated above the fray of this particular fight while John McCain, the candidate famous for his national security strength and knowledge rather than economic prowess, dramatically injected himself into a process that has failed, temporarily at least.

There is plenty of anger on the part of taxpayers who see the bailout as the biggest golden parachute in history for people who have made billions of dollars while driving the economy into a ditch. Those are the voices most of those in the House who face tough re-election battles listened to yesterday. There is also an overwhelming sense among those who are supposed to understand these issues that something has to be done to prevent the bad economic conditions from getting much, much worse.

Neither presidential candidate has managed to get any better of a grip on the crisis than anyone else. McCain may get some measure of credit for trying, but just as many voters could see his attempt as a political stunt, and one that backfired. Obama, on the other hand, seems almost detached from the turmoil, preferring to chime in from the campaign trail without risking getting too close. McCain hasn't exactly demonstrated that he's the old, steady hand needed in a crisis but Obama hasn't shown that he's willing to take much of a chance in the midst of it all either. If there are any political winners here, it's hard to find them.

Around The Track

  • According to Nielsen, just over 52 million people watched Friday's presidential debate, far fewer than the record numbers anticipated by many. In 2004, 62.5 million watched the first debate between John Kerry and President Bush. And nearly 70 million tuned in 1992 to watch the debate between then-President Bush, Bill Clinton and H. Ross Perot.
  • CBS News' Scott Conroy notes that the McCain campaign has attacked Joe Biden for the kind of "gotcha" journalism they decried during last night's interview with Katie Couric.
  • Joe Biden intends to take a hands-off approach in his debate with Sarah Palin this week and won't jump on any mistakes the Alaska governor makes, Politico's Roger Simon reports.
  • Palin is facing growing unease within her party about her performance thus far as McCain's running mate and she's become a polarizing figure for the electorate, the AP reports.