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McCain's M.O. - Our Pain, His Gain

September 26, 2008

As John McCain heads to Mississippi for the presidential debate he held hostage for the past two days, his cynical ploy is being panned across the political spectrum. While Chris Dodd blasted the Republican's bungled bailout intervention as "a rescue plan for John McCain," GOP colleague Mike Huckabee called it simply a "huge mistake." Sadly, McCain's self-proclaimed white knight role is now a sadly familiar routine. Down in the polls and facing a national crisis exposes him at his weakest, John McCain suspends his campaign and declares the issue must be taken "out of politics." In a nutshell, McCain's pathetic modus operandi is our pain, his gain.
McCain's response to the approach of Hurricane Gustav provides a case in point. In the wake of the Democratic convention, Barack Obama enjoyed a bounce that gave him an 8% cushion in the polls. Worse still, Gustav was due to make landfall within days of the three-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which coincidentally was McCain's 72nd birthday. That national tragedy provided not only the defining domestic failure of the Bush administration, but produced the enduring image of the President and McCain sharing birthday cake on an Arizona tarmac even as Katrina devastated New Orleans.
And so McCain's manipulation of the Hurricane Gustav crisis began. As Politico reported on August 30:

McCain made plans to travel to a threatened area of the Gulf Coast on Sunday, accompanied by his wife, Cindy, and running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. They planned to meet Republican Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in Jackson, Miss., aides said.
McCain was scheduled to deliver his acceptance speech Thursday, but now may do so from the devastation zone if the storm hits the U.S. coast with the ferocity feared by forecasters.

The next day, McCain's grandstanding continued, as he and Palin received a briefing at the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. Then, McCain issued a statement designed to place himself above mere partisan politics:

"I pledge that tomorrow night, and if necessary, throughout our convention if necessary, to act as Americans not Republicans, because America needs us now no matter whether we are Republican or Democrat."

As it turned out, McCain's call to "take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats" paid huge dividends. The debut of Sarah Palin erased quickly Obama's bump. As Politico's Roger Simon gushed yesterday, "McCain essentially suspended the first day of the Republican National Convention because of Hurricane Gustav, and while some thought that was a dumb overreaction, it actually gave him a perfect excuse to cancel appearances by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney." Only Cindy McCain's $300,000 outfit on the first night in St. Paul tarnished an otherwise wildly successful gambit.
Fast forward to the Wall Street meltdown. Once again, John McCain tried to profit from national tragedy, this time as American families saw their homes and life savings jeopardized.
McCain's attempt to grab the spotlight as the nonpartisan hero followed a catastrophic week for him as the campaign shifted to his Achilles' heel, the economy. His pronouncement that the "fundamentals of our economy are strong," his 24 hour reversal on the AIG rescue, his bizarre idea for a 9/11-style commission and his unconstitutional call for the firing of SEC chairman Chris Cox battered his campaign - and his standing in the polls.
So in dire political trouble, McCain on Wednesday declared the financial crisis beyond politics. Pretending to suspend his campaign and threatening to skip Friday's debate, McCain would return to Washington where he and he alone would broker a bipartisan solution to the looming implosion of Wall Street:

"It is time for both parties to come together to solve this problem. We must meet as Americans, not as Democrats or Republicans, and we must meet until this crisis is resolved."

Despite having played no role in the negotiations between the White House and Congress in crafting a compromise on the $700 billion bailout package, McCain on Thursday put himself in the spotlight:

"I'm an old Navy pilot, and I know when a crisis calls for all hands on deck," he said. "That's the situation in Washington at this very hour, when the whole future of the American economy is in danger. I cannot carry on a campaign as though this dangerous situation had not occurred, or as though a solution were at hand."

This time, though, it looks at though McCain won't get away with it. Editorial boards blasted McCain's theatrics as just that. Democrats blamed McCain for scuttling the tentative agreement reached earlier Thursday. And news outlets including CNN, CBS and the New York Times reported that McCain sat largely silent during the White House meeting in which House Republicans unraveled the consensus reached without his involvement. In the end, McCain backed down from his debate threat. As Republican consultant Craig Shirley put it, "he blinked and Obama did not."
Bill Clinton famously used to say that he "shared our pain." Now, after his outrageously self-aggrandizing performance this week, it's John McCain's turn.

One comment on “McCain's M.O. - Our Pain, His Gain”


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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