Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Gambler's Odds

I'm not going to bother with linking to all the blogs talking about Sen. McCain's maneuvering since it seems that just about every other post is about said maneuvering. Instead, I'm going to emulate the senator from Arizona and just shoot from the hip here.
There are several possible reasons for suspending a campaign so close to an election, even a presidential election. The death of a spouse or president would qualify and have a real touch of class to it. Suspending a campaign, just days before the first debate, on the basis that Congress and the country need the candidate in Washington D.C. to save everything just smacks of narcissism (particularly when the Senate Majority leader tells you not to come). It also smacks of desperation within the campaign and a potential financial crisis of their own. And that's only the basic political assumptions that immediately jump to mind.
Pure political gamesmanship aside, what do such actions say of a presidential candidate? What's striking about Sen. McCain's actions/gambit is the high probability of exposing yourself to the attack line of being unable to handle the every day tasks of the president and a major crisis at the same time. Not to praise the man, but even President Bush is able to do it to some degree. That Sen. McCain has opened himself to such an attack is about as close to electoral suicide as you can get without photos of the senator with a rough trick name Billy and the motel sign in the background. It's not simply the hit to Sen. McCain's experience platform, it's a controlled detonation of the image that the senator can deal with the major problems of our generation.
The other serious problem of the McCain campaign suspension is the practical issue of presidential debates. While Sen. McCain may claim the financial crisis is too important for a distraction like a debate, it comes off more as an attempt to avoid such a debate at this time. One of the comparisons being bandied about is a college student asking for an extension on their paper. While that's fine for a college student, John McCain is a major party candidate for president of the fucking United States. You don't get extensions or absences. You don't get to skip work for a day or call in sick. Is that fair? Of course not, but that's the job Sen. McCain is applying for. Now is the moment when you get to take a look at the resumes of two qualified individuals and find out which one can handle the job. Clearly, at this point, it's Sen. Obama. He's taken the Wall Street meltdown in stride, keeping in contact with the necessary people while running a presidential campaign. In point of fact, Sen. Obama is doing two jobs at once as he is still trying to keep up with his work in the Senate and run for president at the same time. In this game there are no time outs or extensions.
All of which is to say I think Sen. McCain made a major mistake today. While he may have rallied the social conservative base with his pick of Gov. Palin as his running mate, the moderates and independents still need courting. Exposing yourself to the attack of being unable to run a major organization during a crisis does not instill confidence in the undecided part of the electorate. What's more, using the financial crisis as an excuse to duck a debate only exacerbates the intensity of such an attack. Sen. McCain has exposed a serious weakness with more than a month of campaign left. The press isn't exactly his friend anymore and a good number of people are already unsure about his abilities to run the nation while dealing with the multiple crises that already exist. Sen. McCain may like to gamble but lately his bets haven't paid off in the big ways he needed them to; and as gamblers like to say, "if you play long enough the house will always win." It's just sad to see a man I once could respect fall so low.