An offer Obama has to refuse

Let’s assume, for a moment, that there might actually be some substantive value to the presidential campaign being suspended so that John McCain and Barack Obama can lock themselves in a room until the financial crisis has been solved. How might it have been handled if McCain weren’t being entirely political?

Here’s an answer: McCain could have approached Obama quietly. If Obama agreed, they could make a joint announcement. If not, then McCain could go public and grab whatever political advantage was to be had.

So what actually happened? As best as we can tell, McCain announced publicly and unilaterally that he was going to suspend his campaign, blindsiding Obama — after spurning agreeing to Obama’s private request to issue a joint statement earlier today. Obama can’t go along, because he’d look weak and subservient. McCain knows that, which is why he made Obama an offer he has to refuse.

It’s a big gamble. McCain might end up looking ridiculous. His hope is that Obama will look crassly political instead.

On the merits, the whole thing strikes me as absurd. The White House and Congress are working on a bailout package that everyone involved seems to think will get done within days.

Friday’s scheduled presidential debate is not a sporting event that should be canceled on the grounds of misplaced priorities. It’s serious business, the business of democracy. Let’s get on with it.

28 thoughts on “An offer Obama has to refuse

  1. Steve

    Dan, you write: McCain announced publicly and unilaterally that he was going to suspend his campaign, blindsiding Obama — after spurning Obama’s private request to issue a joint statement earlier today.I read it (very) slightly differently – McCain agreed to Obama’s (private) request to issue a joint statement, then blind-sided Obama with his public statement and his “suspension” of his campaign.From the Politico article, the statement from Obama’s campaign said (emphasis mine): “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.”This just smells like a stunt, driven by bad poll numbers. After all, the only thing that has changed since last week is the polls. So why else is he making this statement now? (The thing is, sometimes stunts like this work – hey, look at the shiny object!)

  2. Mike F

    I thought you were creating an imagine-if scenario to illustrate a point. And then I had to read the post again because I knew I missed something. Then I figured you must have accidentally left something out, so I checked CNN.com. This is unbelievable. I mean, this has to be it right? There’s no way most people aren’t going to think he’s lost his mind, right? Right? Please?

  3. Tunder

    Ok, haven’t seen the news yet, but my first response is WTF?!?Does he actually think that the public would rather he and Obama sit in the Senate instead of having a debate? Move it to Georgetown University or somewhere near the capital. They can leave for 2 hours and then go back to work.Absolutely absurd and a decision that I think will have people questioning McCain’s sanity.By the way, one of my first reactions was to think that this is a set-up to cancel Palin’s debate next week with Biden. She has too many pressing issues than to take time out to debate. Right! OK, now I’m sinking into conspiracy mode…

  4. Prospecticus

    So the day after G.Will writes a piece disparaging McCain as being among other things “operatic,” what does the Senator do? It didn’t help that the moose hunter was over on CBS with Katie, tap dancing around every question before ending things with an “I’ll get back to ya.”

  5. James O'Brien

    One wonders what other elements of the democratic process Mr. McCain would dramatically seek to suspend, given a crisis during his potential term in office. A worrisome precedent.

  6. tvoh

    What’s the point? It’s not like either of them understands the problem or the bailout plans. Oh, that’s right, we have to hide that Obama is just as clueless.”this is a set-up to cancel Palin’s debate next week with Biden”If you can’t beat Biden in a debate, you’ve got a problem. Heck, don’t say a word, just let him babble and you win.

  7. Mark

    Dan, for the first time since I started reading this blog, I have to agree with you.As a very tepid supporter of John McCain, even I’m starting to get sick of his obviously political stunts that he plays off as part of his “country first” image.The bailout has been dominating the national dialogue for two weeks now – but suddenly two days before a debate it becomes imperative that McCain suspend his campaign to devote his full attention to the issue?Sadly, I have to break some more new ground today and agree with Chuck Schumer that this is a “weird and odd” move.I was energized by McCain for only the second time of the entire campaign about a month ago after Saddleback. There is no question i will be voting for him still. But it’s moves like this that prevent me from getting any more involved than casually observing from the sidelines.

  8. tvoh

    “Franklin Roosevelt got on the television and didn’t just talk about the princes of greed. He said, “look, here’s what happened.”Joe BidenDoes anyone have any video of FDR on TV?Joe’s the one who should be manipulating the postponement.Next week he’ll probably say to a blind guy, “Can’t you see the writing on the wall?”He makes Dan Quayle look like Cicero.I’m sure Dan’s going to be all over this.

  9. Don, American

    McCain must announce that he will be doing the business of Congress on Friday, and tell Obama to do the same, as he would any other child.

  10. Dan Kennedy

    Thank you, Dot. Biden lives with his foot permanently in his mouth, but Tvoh seems to have forgotten that Americans got as much visual news in the 1930s as they do today thanks to newsreels.

  11. Dot Lane

    McCain must announce that he will be doing the business of Congress on Friday, and tell Obama to do the same, as he would any other child.***************For a guy who cast his last vote in April, John McCain certainly has a laissez faire approach to the business of Congress, which is what got us into this mess in the first place. I’m sure someone will be around to remind McCain where his office is. The idea that McCain is telling “Obama to do the same, as he would any other child” is risible.

  12. Aaron Read

    I was energized by McCain for only the second time of the entire campaign about a month ago after Saddleback. There is no question i will be voting for him still. But it’s moves like this that prevent me from getting any more involved than casually observing from the sidelines.I’m sorry, I can’t help but think this is analogous to saying “Wow, even though everyone says this dog crap smells like roses, it really smells like dog crap! But I’m still going to eat it anyways…”

  13. tvoh

    How could I forget that, Dan. I wasn’t around in the 30s. I do know there was no TV.Tell me Joe, I mean Dan, what was life like for you in the 30s.Your man said TV. Stop trying to put a shine on a sneaker. Biden is a clown.If I were Palin I’d be happy to debate him.If I were the guy down at the bus station with a beverage covered by a bag, I’d still be ready.

  14. Dot Lane

    “I wasn’t around in the 30s. I do know there was no TV.”**************Ah, the certainty of the conservative. You are completely wrong. From wikipedia: “CBS’s New York City station W2XAB began broadcasting their first regular seven days a week television schedule on July 21, 1931, with a 60-line electromechanical system. The first broadcast included Mayor Jimmy Walker, the Boswell Sisters, Kate Smith, and George Gershwin.”You can read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_television#United_States_and_CanadaStill ready for that debate?

  15. tvoh

    Actually, I did know that. The head of the National German Socialist Party made broadcast regularly on TV in the 30s.We all make mistakes.Ah, the certainty of a liberal. Anyone not to the left of Kim Jong Il is a conservative. I’m not a conservative. I just don’t vote for the Democrats as their party is a cargo cult and I would not want to mark myself as a primitive.

  16. Peter Porcupine

    DK – McCAin and Obama are both meeting with the President and Congresional leaders (as of this minute)to arrive at a bi-partisan solution and do it quickly.After issuuing the joint statement, both sides will refrain from making further ones while negotiations proceed. Here is the text of his statements – “I am confident that before the markets open on Monday we [includes Obama] can achieve consensus on legislation that will stabilize our financial markets, protect taxpayers and homeowners, and earn the confidence of the American people. All we must do to achieve this is temporarily set politics aside, and I am committed to doing so. “Following September 11th, our national leaders came together at a time of crisis. We must show that kind of patriotism now. Americans across our country lament the fact that partisan divisions in Washington have prevented us from addressing our national challenges. Now is our chance to come together to prove that Washington is once again capable of leading this country.” How DARE he…and to his credit, Obama has responded by cancelling his plans as well.

  17. Mike F

    “If you can’t beat Biden in a debate, you’ve got a problem. Heck, don’t say a word, just let him babble and you win.”Apparently, Biden may be the only one to show up, so you may get your wish.

  18. tvoh

    “Apparently, Biden may be the only one to show up, so you may get your wish.”Stating a fact is not a wish. I wrote if I were Palin, I’d be happy to debate Biden. If Palin and her handlers are afraid to debate even Biden, there is a problem. That hardly means I think she will come off as Demosthenes. It means if you can’t win against Biden, there are few people you can hope to defeat in a battle of wits.Certainly, this ploy was a campaign trick on the part of McCain. That’s politics. For those like Dot who think I’m a conservative, I think an Obama presidency would be slightly less goofy then the Strait Jacket Talker.

  19. Suldog

    OK, here’s the minority report.Both of them currently hold the job of United States Senator. I’d like to see them doing that job.Is there anything we don’t know about these guys? Some amazing piece of knowledge going to come out of a debate? Highly unlikely. The best that could be hoped for is some sort of collapse under the pressure of the debate situation. Will that happen, Again, highly unlikely.The usual disclaimer: Libertarian, blah blah blah.

  20. Steve

    suldog – While I agree that there might be little we don’t know about Obama and McCain, “we” here are (how can I put this politely?) politically obsessed compared to the electorate at large. Is there anyone among the commenting community here whose choice is not already made? (Not completely rhetorical – is there?)Presidential debates get huge TV audiences. If everyone already knew what the candidates would say, why would that be? I think there is ample evidence (although I have no cite handy) that the 20% or so of the electorate that is still not completely sure of their final choice has that choice shaped by the candidates’ performance in the debates.

  21. Dan Kennedy

    Steve: To build on your point, McCain is acting on the assumption that the public sees the debates as politics as usual, easily canceled if there is more important business to attend to. I don’t think the public sees it that way. I think the public sees the debates as the single most important events in the entire campaign. Surveys have showed that undecided voters depend heavily on the debates.Now, it’s one thing if they’re merely postponed. But there’s already some buzz that McCain is trying to substitute the first presidential debate for the vice-presidential debate, meaning there would be no Palin-Biden debate.

  22. calliman

    Give me a break on this whole Palin/Biden thing. Yes, Biden says some stupid things. But certainly if you were to put his comments up against Sarah Palin’s, you would be talking about a tenth grader’s knowledge of world affairs versus a Phd. (And I taught tenth grader’s for 12 years.) All we know about Palin is that she will not “blink,” or apparently think.I would bet my lunch that Palin could not name the five pillars of Islam.

  23. Suldog

    Steve, Dan:Probably correct about those of us here being more involved, etc., but that doesn’t change the fact that both of these guys have been on the campaign trail for almost two years now. If anybody hasn’t been paying enough attention during that time to know where the candidates stand by now, then I don’t want them voting, thanks.(Dan – If I didn’t totally misread an earlier exchange we had, concerning means testing for voters, then I assume you agree with my last declaration. Of course, agreeing with that does not have to mean you agree that the debates are relatively meaningless. It doesn’t buttress your argument that they aren’t, though.)(Refer: http://medianation.blogspot.com/2008/01/not-great-night-for-mccain.html)(By the way, just to set the record straight? Aside from my honestly wanting them to do their jobs as senators, rather than run campaigns on public salaries, I do realize that this is just a political ploy by McCain, and a fairly transparent one at that. It is reprehensible.)

  24. Steve

    suldog – You (and I) might want all voters to be well-informed and issue-based, but I think it’s fairly well established that our desires do not conform with reality.And, to defend the undecideds here, even if you know where candidates stand on the issues, that’s only one thing (and maybe not even the most important thing) driving your decision. I mean, I might like all the stands on the issues that Dennis Kucinich might hold, and still not believe he would be an effective President, based on various criteria that are hard to quantify – like facial expressions, tone of voice, appearance, ability to articulate, ability to think on his feet, etc, etc.Debates are useful for people who make their decisions on such criteria in a way position papers and stump speeches aren’t.I think most of us (including me) just don’t have the time or energy to think deeply about issues. The political views we hold aren’t always supported by rational thought or evidence (at least that we can readily identify) – they are far too often articles of faith. Taking the time to listen to people who HAVE thought deeply about issues (because it’s their job) is time well spent, especially when the ideas expressed are in conflict. I was pleasantly surprised at the tone and level of one debate in particular (I think it might have been the second Clinton-Obama debate). Two grownups, talking about grownup issues intelligently without ad hominem attacks, and without excessive interference by moderators – it just gave me a warm feeling that such debate was even possible in the midst of an otherwise bitter campaign.So I think debates can have value, even if your mind is made up, and losing an opportunity to see the candidates debate is a loss for all of us.

  25. Dan Kennedy

    Suldog: In my perfect, idealized world, people would not vote unless they have a pretty deep understanding of the issues, are not swayed by superstition (and I get to define it!), etc. But we don’t live there.Steve: Actually, the most reliable method of voting is the one that’s often the most discredited — voting by party affiliation. Doesn’t work in the primaries, but it sure works in the general. One of my big problems with undecided voters is that they pretend it doesn’t matter whether the candidate is a Democrat or a Republican. In fact, that matters almost more than anything else.

  26. gardtrask

    I have a new word for the political lexiconfliop FLY-op –noun 1. Informal. a sudden or unexpected reversal, as of direction, belief, attitude, or policy so fast that the original statement, while declared dead, is still warm. Examples: “The economy is sound……..ly in the dumper”. “The Government should not bail out AIG ………tomorrow, they should do it today.”

  27. tvoh

    “I would bet my lunch that Palin could not name the five pillars of Islam.”Wow, that must impress the babes down at starbucks.Maybe Obama knows them, as he did spend time in an Islamic environment, but so what.I can see the debate, Alex Trebek asks, Senator Obama, what are the five pillars of Islam, please your answer in the form of a question.

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