Columns » John Brummett

McCain’s Cynicism Express

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This is a little vignette about the cynicism of modern American politics. Necessarily, it's mostly about John McCain.

We face a real American crisis in our high-finance industry. It's the fault of private greed, private arrogance and government negligence in curbing private greed and arrogance.

Absent a government bailout, repercussions could be severe on working Americans bearing no responsibility. Small business loans and home mortgage loans — indeed, consumer credit — could become expensive, tight or nonexistent. Americans' precious savings for retirement could plummet. We could have a deep recession. A lame-duck president with no remaining credibility, acting through his treasury secretary and in concert with the Fed, proposes a solution. It's to pledge up to $700 billion in taxpayer money to bail Wall Street out of losses, not so much to save Wall Street as to avoid the dire repercussions for the nation's economic health and regular people's well-being.

Democrats in Congress are inclined to support it, but they worry that John McCain and his Republicans might double-cross them and label them big-government spenders and friends of the rich and powerful.

It's not an altogether paranoid worry. McCain's campaign has been uncommonly brazen in its cynicism, claiming a mantle of change because of the running mate selection of an unqualified Alaskan neophyte, then decrying insider influence while McCain's own campaign manager has a lobbying firm that, until a month ago, was on retainer from Freddie Mac, one of the bailed-out mortgage guarantors. Republicans in Congress are divided, with the more fervently right-wing of them genuinely uncomfortable with the idea of government money getting commingled quite this much with the private sector.

Barack Obama, Democratic candidate for president, gets an idea. He telephones McCain and suggests that, owing to the dire delicacy of the situation and a need for their joint leadership, they issue an agreed-to statement endorsing at least the concept of a bailout and detailing whatever shared concepts or particulars they could manage to forge.

This puts McCain in a political spot. There's a new poll out showing that the financial crisis is hurting him in the polls. He's lost his lead of the week before and people say they more trust Obama and the Democrats on the economy.

So McCain says to Obama that, yeah, maybe they could do such a statement. But he knows that, if he simply goes along, word will get out that this was Obama's initiative and leadership, not his, thus enhancing Obama's prestige and exacerbating McCain's vulnerability.

McCain needs to seize some kind of initiative of his own. He is not a man for subtlety or nuance. He throws his second desperation pass of the month, the first having been his aforementioned choice of this unqualified Alaskan neophyte as his running mate.

By the end of the day, McCain blind-sides and trumps Obama by announcing that, owing to this financial crisis and the need for leadership, he is suspending his campaign and going to Washington to work on a compromise. He doesn't actually head to Washington right away, though.

McCain also proposes that he and Obama postpone their scheduled debate Friday night from the University of Mississippi. He says they need to rise above politics for the moment, though, of course, what he is doing is wholly political.

McCain's campaign then puts out a memo that leaks to reporters and gives local supporters “talking points” about how to spin political advantage from McCain's supposed rise above politics.

Wasn't Obama's original call also wholly political? Yes. He's also running for president. He was trying to secure cover for himself and congressional Democrats. He was trying to appear presidential. But at least he was trying to get this done in reasonable person-to-person discussions with his rival, not with a brazen publicity stunt.

Suffice to say that John McCain isn't in New Hampshire on his Straight Talk Express anymore.

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