There's nothing a campaign operative hates more than unpredictability. Whether it's a debate topic not prepped for, an event stage mismanaged or an economic crisis with no easy answers, campaigns really don't like getting knocked off script.
As the Wall Street bailout proposal begins making its way through the Washington meat grinder, neither presidential candidate is sounding completely convinced that it's the right thing to do. Both Barack Obama and John McCain want to look responsive to a real crisis that threatens to overtake every other issue but both are also being very cautious about embracing something that could prove unpopular and provide those who made this mess an easy landing.
The Wall Street Journal roundup of the candidate's approaches puts it succinctly: "Either choice involves political risk. Opposing the plan could look irresponsible in the face of financial meltdown. But supporting a bailout for Wall Street firms while voters are suffering their own economic hardships could be hazardous, too."
Both candidates have been caught off-guard to some extent by the credit crisis. John McCain's initial response that the "fundamentals" of the economy are sound made him appear out of touch with events and became hard for even the most Pollyanish of observers. Already hammered by some conservative columnists for, among other things, his selection of Sarah Palin to be his running mate, McCain takes the full wrath of George Will this morning for calling for the head of SEC chairman Chris Cox. Will flat-out wonders whether McCain is "suited" for the presidency.
For Obama, the economy should be a winning issue, especially when it involves bad news. Insecurity should help him because Obama represents the party not in power, thus
"change," and also because Democrats traditionally have the edge on the issue because they're seen as champions of the lower and middle classes. But turning over a Trillion dollars of taxpayer money to rescue Wall Street fat cats who ran things into the ground in the first place may not strike those same voters as fair. And, if McCain can recover from his missteps, "experience" may yet be a positive.
Friday's debate is supposed to be focused on international affairs and foreign policy but this issue will have to be addressed. As this bailout package works its way through Congress, these two senators are going to have to decide whether they are going to vote for it or not (as McCain likes to say, you can't vote "present" as president). And, they're going to have to explain why they end up supporting it or opposing it. This wasn't in the plan, and it's anyone's guess how it plays out.
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