Business Times - 26 Sep 2008
He suspends campaign and plans to skip TV debate to focus on financial crisis
By LEON HADAR
W HAT a huge difference a week makes in the economic and political opinions of the nation! At the beginning of last week, the major topic of debate in Washington was whether John McCain's choice for vice-president, Alaska governor Sarah Palin, would sway women voters to elect him in November.
And the conventional wisdom among the pundits was that McCain's masterful choice of Palin as his running mate was halting Barack Obama's political momentum and making it more likely that McCain would replace George Bush in the White House next year.
Moreover, the topic of the first televised presidential debate scheduled for today was on national security and foreign policy, which were always the preferred topics of McCain, the former war veteran who was one of the leading boosters of the 'surge' of US troops in Iraq, a move that Obama had opposed.
And since the security conditions in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq seemed to have stabilised after the deployment of 40,000 additional US troops to that country, McCain would have an opening in the debate to attack Obama.
And then came 9/15, which saw the stunning end of Lehman Brothers, followed by Black Monday on Wall Street as Washington moved to save insurance giant AIG, adding to the impression that in the aftermath of the government takeover of the two mortgage behemoths, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Bush administration was in the process of nationalising some large parts of the financial market.
Then came the startling announcement on the White House lawn last Friday that the Bush administration was going to use hundreds of billions of US dollars to help save the Masters of the Universe on Wall Street.
And as the Dow started to tumble, so did McCain's numbers in the opinion polls. Indeed, most polls seemed to suggest that when it comes to dealing with national security, most voters trusted McCain, but as for the management of the economy, they prefer to see Obama doing that job.
Hence, while McCain seemed to be rising in the polls during the recent crisis between Georgia and Russia, economic disasters seemed to be favouring Obama, especially when seen against the backdrop of Black Monday and the ensuing financial earthquake.
He and his fellow Democrats in Congress seemed to be succeeding in convincing the majority of Americans that the free-market policies favoured by the Bush administration and the Republican Party and presidential-candidate McCain, the multimillionaire, and especially the de-regulation of the financial markets, have created the conditions for the Wall Street crash. Obama and the Democrats couldn't resist mocking McCain's earlier statement that the 'fundamentals of the economy are sound'.
Hence, by the end of this week, most opinion polls were indicating that Obama was zooming to the top - the recent Washington Post showed that Obama was leading McCain by nine points - turning Iraq, foreign policy, and the hockey mom from Alaska into political side-shows, as the country seemed to be waiting for Obama to fix things in Washington and Wall Street.
The McCain campaign was put on the defensive, as it tried to shield itself from allegations that one of its managers served as a paid lobbyist for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It stuck to photo-ops of Palin meeting foreign leaders at the United Nations as a way of demonstrating her foreign policy 'experience'.
But then, McCain is a former fighter pilot, and fighter pilots win the day by ambushing their adversaries.
So as the American people were watching with growing apprehension the debate over the bailout in Washington - politicians grandstanding before the television cameras as Wall Street burns - McCain moved to take control of the financial crisis by suspending the campaign.
He seems to be hoping that by flying on his private plane to confront 'historic national crisis' and 'the potential collapse of our financial system', he is projecting his decisiveness as a leader who is ready to enter Washington. Forgotten was his claim last week that the economic fundamentals were strong.
Moreover, McCain, highlighting his campaign slogan 'Country First', announced that he was not only suspending his campaign, but he was also not planning to take part in the televised debate on Friday. Country comes before politics!
McCain also called the legislation being discussed in Washington as vital to preventing 'devastating consequences' for the economy.
'We must meet as Americans, not as Democrats or Republicans, and we must meet until this crisis is resolved,' he said and had asked Obama to 'join' him in this national crusade.
In fact, lawmakers were telling reporters that Congress and the administration were actually close to cutting a deal over the bailout programme, including over the demand to have public oversight over the Treasury's implementation of the rescue plan and could probably reach an agreement and approve it over the weekend before Congress goes on recess and Wall Street opens on Monday.
'There's a good possibility we will get there over the next day or so,' Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd told reporters on Wednesday, just as McCain was arguing that 'it has become clear that no consensus has developed to support the administration's proposal'.
It will be interesting to see how the McCain campaign turns if the bill does get passed this week.
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