Suspending McCain's Campaign
John McCain always tries to do the most unexpected thing possible, and he succeeded today. He announced that he was suspending his presidential campaign in order to focus on the economic mess, and asked that this Friday's debate be postponed until things are on a more stable fiscal footing. Obama said no--the debate is still on, although it's hard to imagine how it could take place if McCain insists on postponing it.
McCain wants both parties to work together on this, a constant them of his campaign. His vision includes Republicans and Democrats uniting around a joint plain to fix this problem, and not resting until a solution is found. The stakes are high, at least in McCain's mind--in his speech today, he prophesied that "people will no longer be able to buy homes and their life savings will be at stake." And frighteningly, this may not be campaign hyperbole--many economists believe that our current situation could result in a stock market meltdown like the one seen in 1929.
Suspending his campaign is a bold move by McCain; one that will either succeed spectacularly or fail miserably--there will be middle ground. There is a reasonable chance that he will look presidential and commanding; there is an equally good chance that McCain will merely look foolish. But however he looks, McCain is going all in with his plan--he is pulling TV ads and canceling campaign appearances.
This is vintage McCain. People have different opinion about the Wall Street bailout--some favor it, others oppose it, many (perhaps most) can't decide. But McCain has an opinion, and he is certain that he is right and that it would be best for the country. And if the country needs it, he will do everything possible to support it--even if it means losing the election. He has said many times that he would rather lose an election than lose a war--and evidently he feels the same way about financial crisises.
Obama feels differently about the whole situation. He says that the economic crisis makes having a debate about these issues all the more urgent, and that he will not scale down his campaign efforts. Evidently, he is going for the cool, unflustered image; the man who remains unfazed by any situation. Like McCain's position, this course is fraught with danger--he risks looking indecisive and insensitive to the needs of ordinary Americans.
Both candidates support some form of government bailout. Last week, I wrote about the "stupidity" of such a bailout. Undeniably, it would represent a massive government intrusion into the private sector, and would result in a blurring of the lines between the public and private sectors. And it would be staggeringly expensive too--somewhere in the neighborhood of one trillion dollars. (Although quite frankly, the cost doesn't worry me all that much--the federal government owes over 57 trillion in entitlements over the next half century, so another trillion won't mean much. We may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb). And the bailout would set a dangerous precedent--during the next financial crisis (and there will be one--this is capitalism), business will look to the federal government for a helping hand.
So is the bailout "stupid"? Maybe not. Some economists believe that the market came within 500 trades of crashing last week, which would have resulted in massive financial hardship for millions of Americans. Nobody wants a stock market crash--and government intervention to prevent one would be welcomed by most people, even by many conservatives. If it would truly prevent another Depression (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), I would find it hard to oppose such a measure, distasteful as it may be to my conservative sensibilities.
But the question remains--is it necessary? Simple answer: I don't know. Neither does anyone else. Next question: is this bailout a worthwhile gamble? Same answer: I don't know. Conservatives should hate the idea of government expansion. But they should also hate the idea of another Great Depression--and it not as if the government is invading territory formerly sacrosanct to free enterprise. Government meddling created many of these problems, and it may be necessary for government to attempt to solve some of the problems it created.
There is no good answer. For myself, I think (and this is merely an opinion, and one that is not supported by any great amount of economic knowledge) that a bailout may be necessary. It's not a good option, but it seems better than the others. But whatever the solution, John McCain is right to put aside his campaign to try to find it. McCain is choosing the honorable course.