John McCain, Cliff Jumper
The thing about a political stunt, I told my son last night, is that if you get away with it, it’s no longer a stunt. It’s bold leadership…keeping in mind that the first mark of a leader is that she or he has followers.
John McCain suspended his campaign yesterday, attempting to at least project an image of leadership, if not enacting its substance. Is anybody following?
Before giving the obvious answer to that question, it should be said that there is a kind of sense to John McCain and, for that matter, Barack Obama, suspending their presidential campaigns, going back to Washington and fulfilling their duties as United States Senators voting on proposed legislation dealing with the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression.
And, I should add that I always thought that the ideal presidential candidate was a former governor or senator who could hit the campaign trail, not having, in effect, to call in sick every day, missing important votes while still drawing a government paycheck.
On top of that, once Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke laid out the grim circumstances of America’s financial markets, it was clear that politically, to avoid what is now likely to be a landslide loss to Barack Obama in November, John McCain had to do something to dramatize his acknowledgment of the gravity of the crisis, to demonstrate that even though he’s a Republican and when economic crises arise, Americans tend to vote Democratic, he was their guy, and to indicate that he was going to be part of building a non-partisan consensus to resolve things.
The problem is that few are buying it. Few, after hearing McCain’s announcement yesterday thought, “There’s a leader I’m going to follow.”
John McCain’s “suspension” of his campaign is seen as a stunt and because he hasn’t gotten away with it, he adds certainty to my belief that this campaign is, effectively, over.
McCain and Obama have been campaigning non-stop now for nearly two years and the Senate has had dozens of roll-call votes and numerous hearings without their presence. Even if they both had been chained to their desks in Washington all this time, neither would likely have played a major role in creating legislation or shepherding it through the Senate right now. Both are little more than presumptive leaders at this time, Obama more than McCain.
So now, I expect the debate to happen in Mississippi tomorrow night, McCain implausibly crowing that since the Congress and the White House have reached some accommodation on a rescue or bailout plan in which he had played a crucial role, that he can in good conscience resume his campaign.
But for a campaign that was going nowhere, McCain’s dramatic–and silly–”suspension” will stand as a serviceable symbol for an effort bound for defeat in November.
For the first two weeks after McCain announced Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate, a McCain victory seemed plausible. Palin was a demographically-brilliant pick, but one which has proven, along with McCain’s campaign “suspension,” that, while he may be a bold gambler and even a good person, John McCain isn’t always wise.
That’s the sort of thing that ill-advised stunts communicate to people. I hate seeing this happen to John McCain. I think that he probably is the kind of person that people follow. But not when he pulls a stunt that’s so transparently and cynically political.
Some will no doubt defend McCain, saying, “He got bad political advice.” But when I was a kid and got into trouble for some stunt I let a friend talk me into doing, my dad and mom had the definitive and discussion-ending response: “If your friends said, ‘Let’s jump off a cliff,’ would you do it?”
John McCain has taken his campaign off a cliff and nobody seems to be following.
[You can read more scintillating stuff on my personal blog.]