Timeout!

Apparently, McCain really wants to go hammer out some nuts and bolts issues on the issue of the bailout:

McCain suspends his campaign, and asks to postpone Friday’s debate, to address the financial crisis.

Of course, this is utterly absurd. Neither Senator is a member of the banking committee, and McCain isn’t even a member of the majority. Obama could, through the basis of his good relationship with Chris Dodd, take some sort of a lead role in hammering out a package, but McCain simply can’t do anything other than grandstand. As Harry Reid rightly pointed out, this can really do nothing but harm negotiations. Of course, McCain has a long track record of not giving a damn about his fellow Senators, so long as it works out for his image.

Now, there’s a couple of ways to look at this. First of all, the McCain campaign has been a disaster over the past 10 days or so, as they have a candidate who knows nothing about economics, let alone a complicated financial mess, and the entire aura of their campaign for the better part of 3 months now has been built around diverting attention away from real issues. So when an economic issue of this magnitude and importance comes around, they’re basically left looking like idiots every day. Secondly, the final debate is scheduled to be on the economy. Considering the current large events going on, this is extremely bad for McCain, as it basically guarantees that, barring some sort of huge, earthshattering event, the economy will be THE big issue for at least the last 3-4 weeks before the election. If that can’t be changed, it’s going to be very hard for McCain to win. So it’s possible that McCain is looking to maybe change the subject with a foreign policy debate or something like that.

On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that John McCain just doesn’t want to debate Barack Obama. This might seem counterintuitive, given all the noise he made about those townhall events, but, as Ezra says,

But this only makes sense if you’ve been running, well, John McCain’s campaign. A bread-and-circus show meant to distract Americans from the issues at hand. If that’s your model of politics, then it makes a certain sense to suspend your relentless festival of diversion to focus on the financial crisis. Debates, however, are not planned by Steve Schmidt or run as 30-second ads. They are a moment when the presidential candidates appear before the American people and articulate their agendas in detail and at length

Which is basically right. You can’t go into a debate to distract people with shiny objects and culture war matters. You can’t lie about your opponent and then count of the media to report it in such a way as to still benefit you. When McCain accuses Obama of being reckless with Iran, for instance, Obama gets to come right back by pointing out that 5 former Secretaries of State, Democratic and Republican, McCain supporting Henry Kissinger included, favor Obama’s approach and think McCain’s is needlessly reckless. And that becomes the story, because that’s where the conflict is. If McCain otherwise lies about Obama, Obama can, if he so chooses, call McCain a liar on national television.

Long story short, it’s a very advantageous position for Obama to be in, and a very bad point for John McCain.