Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Now They're Trying to Take Away My Debate!?!

The news of McCain's call to suspend the debate reminds me of a bit comedian, David Cross, did concerning the fallout from 9-11. Cross discussed how there were probably people in the aftermath of the attacks who were upset that football got canceled for a week. They may not have vocalized it, but there was probably some quiet discontent among a segment of the population. Well, political debates are certainly not to be equated with football, but to political junkies they may as well be one in the same.

Having said that, I'm still trying to sort out this McCain campaign suspension and the possibility of a debate delay. This obviously hasn't happened before. And as history (and Thomas Holbrook in Do Campaigns Matter?) would tell us, presidential election years rarely overlap with economic or military crises. But here we have one smack dab in the middle of what has already been an unprecedented presidential campaign. [Remember, if __________ can happen, then ____________ is more likely than ever to occur during this campaign. I joked a couple of weeks ago that we will see an electoral college tie and there will be a disputed state result simultaneously. This will trigger a battle between the legislative and judicial branches to decide the issue. I look forward to it.]

Here, though, are my instant history thoughts on this move by the McCain folks:

1) McCain once again has to do something to shake up the race. The Palin thing has faded with the focus shifted to the economy and the polls the last two days are favoring Obama in some of the critical battleground states.

2) This, to me, is a potential "damned if you do, damned if you don't" sort of proposition for Obama. If he stays committed to the debate, he can be cast as not caring about dealing with the economic crisis. If he goes along with McCain's wish, Obama will be the second person on the scene. In other words, he wouldn't look like much of a leader. My thinking here is that the McCain folks would once again try to craft a replay of some of the narrative surrounding Obama's trip abroad over the summer. Now, is this the way I expect this to play out? No, but the parallel did enter my mind. Which brings me to...

3) If this is politically motivated (I know, that never happens, especially in politics. Obama's trip, for instance, was just a fact-finding mission.), what does McCain expect get out of it? On the one hand, trying to push back the debate looks moderately defeatist. But on the other, focusing on the bailout issue, shows his willingness to take problems head on. Again, the leadership dimension. And I think that's where the answer lies. McCain = leader. Obama = follower. At least, that's the way they may try to spin it.

Thoughts? This one is a doozy.


Recent Posts:
The Electoral College Map (9/24/08)

The Electoral College Map (9/23/08)

The Links (9/23/08): Debates and Nightmares

12 comments:

Rich Clark said...

Is McCain's request for postponing the Friday night debate a political ploy or a show of real statemanship?

Josh Putnam said...

Rich,
I think this is the question of the hour and like the feelings surrounding Sarah Palin, Democrats will think the former, while Republican will think the latter. The truth, as often is the case, is somewhere in the middle.

SarahLawrenceScott said...

Three possibilities, and it may in actuality be some combination:

--I watched the video of McCain's statement, and it was the most authentic he's looked in a while. I think, unlike Bill Clinton or Reagan, he doesn't particularly like campaigning, and the chance to do something appeals to him. So it may be genuine in that sense.

--To some degree, it may be a penny-ante bluff. Figure that the debate will go on and control another news cycle. It's almost bizarre in the context of his critiques of Obama for not doing the weekly town hall thing, but consistency of message has not been a hallmark of the McCain campaign. Controlling as many news cycles as possible also hasn't been benefiting McCain's campaign.

--If it's a political ploy of some sort that he might actually go through with, then the McCain campaign are idiots. Suppose the campaign suspend advertising for five days, and delay the debate. The vacuum now gets filled with free media of Obama and McCain commenting on the ongoing negotiations over the bailout. Based on the last week, who is that going to favor? And no ads leaves the ground game (knocking on doors, making phone calls) as the only game in town...who does that favor? Politically, suspending the high-profile aspects of the campaign would hurt McCain.

Josh Putnam said...

Good, when Bush is done, I'll try and find the video of McCain's statement. As always, good insight, Scott.

Jack said...

This reminds me a bit of Bush giving up golf in honor of the soldiers who lost their life in Iraq.

I'm sure McCain, who admits he doesn't know much about economics, is desperately needed in Washington right now.

Meanwhile, Letterman really laced into McCain. Turns out he used the time he freed up by cancelling Letterman to ... be interviewed by Katie Couric.

Okay, enough sarcasm, now time to analyze the political ramifications. As a political move, I think this is foolish on McCain's campaign's part. The campaign occasionally has a habit of overreacting to bad polling by making a dramatic move that doesn't really help matters, while Obama is more patient and content to wait things out, as other commenters have pointed out.

If he refuses to participate in the debate, I hope we will see a repeat of what happened in NY-19 in 2006. Incumbent Republican Sue Kelly skipped a League of Women Voters debate. As a result, she was represented by an empty chair in the debate, helping John Hall to pull off a surprise victory. I wonder how the debate committee would handle the situation if McCain refuses to participate.

I also saw a poll showing Americans are seeing right through this. Looks like McCain and his campaign miscalculated.

SarahLawrenceScott said...

Here's the video of the McCain announcement.

Josh Putnam said...

Oh good. Thanks Scott. Jerry Springer and America's Got Talent sent me running for the safety of today's polls after Bush finished on NBC's feed. I forgot.

Josh Putnam said...

Alright, I agree with you on the sincerity angle. He was in his element there. It would have been too political, but all that statement lacked was a "country first" and it would have been complete. But that was implied, I suppose.

Anthony said...

Problem
McCain has missed too many prior Senate votes while campaigning to make political hay on this issue.

Neither McCain or Obama are on the actual committees that are hammering out the details of the legislation.

Demanding to cancel the debates (esp. the VP debates) "smells" of a political ploy.

Finally, to gain points for this and not to be portrayed as erratic, McCain needs favorable media coverage on the national level. This might be difficult are attacking the media for the past two weeks. Many media pundits are pointing out that the timing is suspect and are blatantly pointing out McCain's low poll numbers.

Anthony said...

Also McCain did have time to meet with Lady Lynn de Rothschild during the crisis which seems unusual. After which, he had time for an interview with Katie and a stay in NY (ie he did not rush to DC).

On the plus side, he did not have to answer questions about Rick Davis.

Anthony said...

Last, McCain and his 527s are still taking contributions and running ads. So suspending the campaign seems to have very limited ramifications.

Robert said...

The larger point, however, is what is McCain going to do? The possibilities as I see it are:

1. He rubber stamps what is hammered out which could alienate the Republicans who are dragging their feet.

2. He scuttles the whole thing which means he takes the blame for a crash that is bound to occur.

3. He steps in to find the magic solution that everyone in Washington can agree on demonstrating his leadership and ability to work across party lines and wins in a landslide!

4. He goes up on the Hill creating animosity among the Democratic leadership who he has been trying to cultivate(?)so much over the last few months and is ignored as the Democrats and Paulson hammer out a deal that will only be passed with a guarantee of Republican Congressional support.

In three of the scenarios he is greatly diminished as a leader and a candidate. I find it hard to imagine any case where scenario 3 is realistic. The Democrats would rather walk, win the election and pick up the pieces later.

I think the going to Washington is the bigger mistake than trying to back out of the debates.

Neither McCain nor Obama have been actively engaged in this bailout. If the bailout works, it is just a stop-gap measure that one of them will need to find and implement a longer term solution that prevents a collapse of the economy without damaging our ability to remain a free-market democracy. It seems to me that the train for the bailout has left the station. What we need from the two candidates is their ideas on how they are going to provide a longer-term fix.

I'm getting tired of hearing so much about the $700 billion the taxpayers are going to have to pay when both candidates are talking tax cuts!