Wednesday, September 24, 2008

McCain's Campaign Suspension

Today the McCain campaign announced their candidate would suspend his campaign. He could be calling a time out when things aren't looking so good for him politically or he could be genuinely hoping to return to Capitol Hill to convince fellow Republicans to support President Bush's and Secretary Paulson's bailout bill. Ironically, McCain's decision to suspend his campaign (and even to postpone Friday's debate) is going to look more like a gimmick than an act of statesmanship because our logocracy craves words - even if they must be campaign words - in our hour of need.

The move certainly fits an emerging pattern. This is a campaign of high stakes, big moves and about-turns. The Sarah Palin pick was the first maverick move. This one is the second, and equally risky. They reveal a flailing campaign that believes that the electoral fundamentals tend too powerfully against them, and only big risk moves give them a chance to shake up the prevailing dynamics. Specific to what's on the table in Capitol Hill right now, McCain has to walk a very tight rope. A true maverick would not walk hand in hand with President Bush, but this tethered maverick will also have to pay for the sins of his president if financial collapse ensues.

41 days before election, every decision will be (and therefore is) seen as a political tactic. Some say McCain is hoping to cancel Friday's debate because he knows that he's not going to be able to score many foreign policy debate points at a time when everyone is thinking about Wall Street. But whatever McCain's intentions, privately, everyone in congress knows that the campaign suspension is a political stunt at least in the precise sense that nobody thinks that the presence or absence of John McCain will make or break a deal. If anything he could be complicating very delicate discussions. Congress is a legislative body of 535 individuals, led by committee chairpersons and party leaders. It's the leadership, specific committee chairpersons and members who are striking deals behind the scene. John McCain does not belong to any pertinent committee, so his role in all of this is comparatively trivial. And he knows it, if not he would not have been on the campaign road for most of the past year. Washington can do without one senator.

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