The GOP's Bottomless Crack Pipe
The general expectation this week is that the Paulson Plan for avoiding a worldwide financial meltdown, with an uncertain number of modifications, is going to pass Congress overwhelmingly, and recede into the background in the presidential campaign.
I don't know about that.
Every Democrat should read Patrick Ruffini's post from yesterday at NextRight. He is, I strongly suspect, perfectly reflecting the game that Republicans, including Team McCain, want to play with the Paulson Plan:
Republican incumbents in close races have the easiest vote of their lives coming up this week: No on the Bush-Pelosi Wall Street bailout.
God Himself couldn't have given rank-and-file Republicans a better opportunity to create political space between themselves and the Administration. That's why I want to see 40 Republican No votes in the Senate, and 150+ in the House. If a bailout is to pass, let it be with Democratic votes. Let this be the political establishment (Bush Republicans in the White House + Democrats in Congress) saddling the taxpayers with hundreds of billions in debt (more than the Iraq War, conjured up in a single weekend, and enabled by Pelosi, btw), while principled Republicans say "No" and go to the country with a stinging indictment of the majority in Congress....
In an ideal world, McCain opposes this because of all the Democratic add-ons and shows up to vote Nay while Obama punts.
History has shown us that "inevitable" "emergency" legislation like the Patriot Act or Sarbanes-Oxley is never more popular than on the day it is passed -- and this isn't all that popular to begin with. All the upside comes with voting against it.
Ruffini is exactly right about the politics of this issue, especially for Republicans. Think of this as like one of those periodic votes on raising the public debt limit. It has to pass, of course, but there's zero percentage in supporting it for any one individual. The speculative costs of the legislation actually failing are completely intangible and ultimately irrelevant, while the costs it will impose are tangible and controversial from almost every point of view. For McCain and other Republicans, voting "no" on Paulson without accepting the consequences of that vote is the political equivalent of a bottomless crack pipe: it will please the conservative "base," distance them from both Bush and "Washington," and let them indulge in both anti-government and anti-corporate demagoguery, even as Democrats bail out their Wall Street friends and big investors generally. You simply can't imagine a better way for McCain to decisively reinforce his simultaneous efforts to pander to the "base" while posing as a "maverick."
Democrats are right to demand significant substantive concessions before offering their support for the Paulson Plan. But just as importantly, they need to demand Republican votes in Congress, including the vote of John McCain. If this is going to be a "bipartisan" relief plan, it has to be fully bipartisan, not an opportunity for McCain to count on Obama and other Democrats to save the economy while exploiting their sense of responsibility to win the election for the party that let this crisis occur in the first place.