This hasn’t really been an election about issues.
John McCain has run on experience, “country first,” being a POW, and being a maverick. Barack Obama has run on being a Democrat, being black, being able to read speeches off of a teleprompter, and “change.”
Earlier on the campaign, both candidates focused heavily on the war in Iraq. Obama talked about how he never wanted to do it in the first place and McCain talked about the surge. However, because of the success of the surge, Iraq has cooled significantly as an issue.
That has allowed the economy to come to the forefront as an issue.
Neither candidate has great economic messaging, but Obama’s message, “I will give a tax cut to 95% of all Americans,” probably beats John McCain’s, “I will oppose all earmarks.” There is more to McCain’s message. He has a fantastic record as a fiscal conservative and his promise to freeze spending could have an impact, but he really hasn’t hammered those themes home.
Enter the bailout.
The bailout is killing McCain for a number of reasons. It’s totally unfair to blame George Bush for the bailout because it was created by Democrats in Congress and when he — and for that matter, John McCain and Alan Greenspan — tried to fix it, the Democrats thwarted them. However, the Dems are shamelessly lying about it, the mainstream media is reluctant to report the truth, and inexplicably, Bush and McCain aren’t out there saying it.
Of course, Bush — who has not been up to the job in his 2nd term — compounded the problem by offering up a ridiculously bad bailout plan.
So, how does McCain handle the crisis? First off, he says he’s suspending his campaign, canceling the debate, and heading to Washington to work on the crisis. The Democrats immediately called that a cheap stunt. When McCain later inexplicably changed his mind and did the debate anyway, he proved them right. It was a foolish, indecisive move and it didn’t help his campaign.
Additionally, after McCain made this big show of going back to Capitol Hill, what did he do while he was there? He didn’t take a strong position on the bill. He didn’t lead. He didn’t do anything different from any of the other “leaders” up on the Hill.
McCain had another wonderful opportunity. The House Republicans were working hard to get a better bill. They wanted to put forth a plan featuring insurance and loans, that would be much more responsible and popular than the reworked Paulson plan.
McCain could have publicly joined with them and supported their ideas. In one fell swoop, he could have broken with Bush, fired up conservatives, picked a plan that would have been more popular with the public, and he could have distinguished himself from Obama with his leadership. Furthermore, if McCain and the House Republicans had said, “We have a better plan and we can deliver 180 Republican votes on a plan tomorrow,” I think the Democrats would have had no choice but to give in, especially if it was a more popular plan. But, McCain either didn’t like their ideas or just lacked the political courage to do it and that has put him in a terrible situation.
Because the central, overriding theme of McCain’s campaign has been that McCain has experience while Obama isn’t ready to lead from Day One or capable of handling that 3 AM phone call. Well, we have a real, honest-to-goodness crisis right before the election here and the voters are getting to compare McCain and Obama. So, what are they seeing? They’re seeing that both John McCain, the experienced, fiscal conservative and Barack Obama, the ultra-liberal novice, are handling this crisis in EXACTLY THE SAME WAY.
That counteracts McCain’s primary theme and particularly discourages conservative voters, who have a particularly deep hatred for socialism and running up the deficit, which is exactly what this bill does.
As is, John McCain is about 5 to 6 points behind nationally and that’s bad news with about a month to go and unless John McCain does something differently, I’m afraid this bill is going to sink his candidacy.