What We Learned About John McCain Yesterday
Yesterday was quite a trip through the Twilight Zone, eh? To sum it all up, it was a day when an Address to the Nation by the President of the United States warning of imminent economic collapse was pretty much a minor footnote.
At this point today, there are a lot of important things we don't know. Will a bipartisan deal on a financial system bailout be announced, as key negotiators have hinted? Will John McCain or Barack Obama be "players" or photo-op-bystanders in any deal? Will investors respond positively to news of massive new subsidies? Will homeowners get any protection? Will banks continue to fail, and will credit continue to shrink?
Will there be a presidential debate tomorrow night, and if so, will Barack Obama debate an empty chair, as so many candidates for offices high and low have done in the past when their opponents refuse to debate? (Though normally, the non-debating candidate is one with a big lead).
While we don't have answers to any of those questions, we did learn, or re-learn, an important thing about John McCain yesterday. For all his talk of "honor," the man really is willing to do just about anything for political advantage. He's a "maverick" against decency.
Consider yesterday's events. Barack Obama personally and privately called up McCain and proposed a joint "statement of principles" on the financial bailout, to be worked on in secrecy by staff. McCain agreed, and then, without a word of notice to Team Obama, unilaterally announced his campaign suspension, his demand that the debate be postponed, and his challenge to Obama to accompany him to Washington to get into the middle of the negotiations.
Clearly, no one in Washington had asked for McCain's help in the negotiations; since he's missed every single roll call vote for five months, his colleagues may have well forgotten that he's a member of the Senate. There are, in fact, just two possibilities about this stunt: either it was, as Barney Frank suggested, an incredibly reckless act that threatened the negotiations, or if there was any value to McCain's involvement, it could have all been done in private, away from the cameras.
Meanwhile, McCain refused to sign onto a statement of five principles proposed by the Obama camp, though he did agree to a completely empty statement of concern about the financial crisis. This morning, as Tim Fernholz of TAPPED reports, at the Clinton Global Initiative event (an appearance that somehow did not qualify for cancellation), McCain articulated four of the five proposed principles as his own, in some cases using the exact words of the Obama proposal.
This, my friends (as McCain would say), is a pattern of unmistakably weasely behavior, made no more palatable by the fact that is was all trumpeted as exhibiting the candidate's selfless commitment to "country first."
A lot of Democrats yesterday thought the disingenuous nature of McCain's histrionics would be obvious to voters, and would hurt him badly. I'm not so sure about that, but no one should be surprised at any tactic this campaign descends to from here on out.
UPDATE: Sam Stein has a very useful timeline of McCain's comments on the financial crisis up at HuffPo. And the really astonishing detail is that McCain said on Tuesday of this week--a day before he suspended his campaign and offered to go take charge of the bailout negotiations--that he hadn't gotten around to reading the three-page Paulson Plan. Guess he was too bogged down in debate prep.