My idea! No fair! My idea!

OK, let me get this straight.  John McCain announces the temporary suspension of his campaign to return to Washington and focus on the financial crisis, and Barack Obama responds by…insisting it was his idea first??

The cynicism in Sen. McCain’s announcement is pretty obvious, but is Sen. Obama really trying to take credit for McCain’s cynicism?

After McCain’s suspension announcement, the Obama campaign scrambled to the press to claim indignantly that Obama called McCain this morning to suggest a “joint statement” of some kind (Obama said the same thing at his press conference following McCain’s; they’re not specific on the matter).  McCain says Obama did call, but didn’t reach him, as he was meeting with economic advisors and members of Congress all day.  Moreover, he just told Katie Couric (no link, I’m watching it right now) that “this is not the time for ‘statements,’ this is the time to act.”

In any case, McCain has clearly taken it a step further and said that their jobs take precedence over their job aspirations, and as such they should both suspend campaigning until at least next week.  Obama disagrees, saying the debate Friday should go ahead as planned and if the Senate leadership needs him they are free to call him.

More twists and turns, and a little analysis about the short- and medium-term options open to each candidate, below the break.

UPDATE: The aftermath!  Lots of reaction, including from the Senate Democratic leadership (likewise, below the break).

Late this afternoon, McCain held a press conference announcing he was putting his campaign on hold, and called for Obama “to do the same.”  In addition, he suggested that Friday’s debate be rescheduled so that they may give the bailout negotiations their undivided attention.

The Obama camp’s version of events, according to Washington Post:

“At 8:30 this morning, Senator Obama called Senator McCain to ask him if he would join in issuing a joint statement outlining their shared principles and conditions for the Treasury proposal and urging Congress and the White House to act in a bipartisan manner to pass such a proposal,” Obama spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement. “At 2:30 this afternoon, Senator McCain returned Senator Obama’s call and agreed to join him in issuing such a statement. The two campaigns are currently working together on the details.”

The McCain version: “Sen. Obama phoned Sen. McCain at 8:30 am this morning but did not reach him. The topic of Sen. Obama’s call to Sen. McCain was never discussed. Sen. McCain was meeting with economic advisers and talking to leaders in Congress throughout the day prior to calling Sen. Obama. At 2:30 pm, Sen. McCain phoned Sen. Obama and expressed deep concern that the plan on the table would not pass as it currently stands. He asked Sen. Obama to join him in returning to Washington to lead a bipartisan effort to solve this problem.”

Needless to say, I have no idea whom to believe here; the two versions of events could not both have happened.  McCain may well have taken advantage of Obama’s phone call; then again, Obama may well have been caught flat-footed and painted into a corner.

The politics of this maneuver are fascinating.  Obama couldn’t play johnny-come-lately by signing on to such a dramatic proposal by McCain, since it would concede the high ground to McCain and serve as tacit acknowledgement that he is more assertive and leaderlike on the economy than most people have given him credit for.  Obama, in countering that the debate should go ahead, looks less dedicated to doing the people’s business (rightly or wrongly), although it does suggest that McCain is less capable of multitasking — i.e. older and less mentally agile — than he is.

Then will come the vote on the final bailout plan, when it eventually does.  It’s safe to say both senators will be in Washington at least by then.  Granted, it’s tough to say what the plan will look like when Congress is done with it (just that it won’t look like Treasury Secretary Paulson’s version, which Congressional Democrats have already said is dead on arrival).  That said, I’m guessing that McCain will have much more freedom to vote either way than Obama will.

Think about it.  If Congress’s final plan will not be attributable to Paulson — and thereby to Bush — how can Obama bring himself to vote against it?  The Democrats run both houses of Congress, so I doubt they’ll want the final narrative to say that they weren’t able to cobble something together that made their guy look good, and Obama, in return, won’t want to make his colleagues look incompetent by trashing their product.  So he’s under pressure to vote yes.

McCain, on the other hand, suffers no harm if he votes against a bill that is linkable to Paulson/Bush, since he bills himself as the man not beholden to any party.  Nor is he obliged by circumstance to support a bill that’s a creature of Congress, since (a) he’s a member of the minority, and (b) he’s not an establishment member; he’s just about the only member of Congress who can pull off a campaign running against Congress.  Then again, he can always claim (as a member of the minority) that the final deal is the best any Republican of good conscience can hope for under the circumstances, and further wrangling with the majority would only prolong the agony for the reg’lar folks.  So no matter how Obama votes, McCain is fairly free to tailor his own vote to maximum political effect.

All things considered, it looks like McCain has managed the upper hand for today.  Let’s see if he can hold onto it through the point at which the votes are cast.

MORE: Dan Riehl suggests McCain let Obama go to the debate, and send Palin in his place.

EVEN MORE: Ann Althouse says Obama’s utter predictability makes McCain’s show of leadership “utterly bogus,” and wonders where President Bush is.

MORE STILL: Hot Air has a roundup of blogger reactions.

AND A LITTLE MORE: ABC reports Majority Leader Reid tells McCain not to bother.  Not a bad way to call his bluff, actually.  Who’d’ve thought Reid had it in him?

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One thought on “My idea! No fair! My idea!

  1. Pingback: Bill defends McCain; Reid bites himself « WitSnapper | The Blog

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