COMMENTS: The Unsuspended Candidate

Wednesday, John McCain pledged to suspend his Republican Presidential candidacy because, in the words of his campaign slogan, he was putting Country First, as he explained in Katie Couric's Exclusive interview on CBS. He declared he would return to the Senate to work as a legislator until the bill to rescue the financial industry had been hammered out. Now two days later, the bill still unwritten, Candidate McCain reemerged and he flew off the Mississippi to debate Democrat Barack Obama. "He bowed to widespread insistence that the debate go ahead," CBS' Dean Reynolds (no link) reflected.

CBS' Couric asked two lead Congressional negotiators about McCain's contribution. "What it did was bring more attention to the problem," John Boehner answered, the leader of the House Republicans. "I thought it was constructive." Democrat Christopher Dodd, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, called it "pure political theater. It was a rescue plan for John McCain not a rescue plan for the economy." The failure of McCain's presence to produce a result, CBS' Bob Schieffer (no link) concluded, is a blow to his image as the maverick who can bring opposing parties together: "So far he is not looking too good on this."

NBC's Andrea Mitchell reported that McCain's claim of suspension was a falsehood: "Both candidates have been rehearsing--even McCain during his detour through Washington." Yet ABC's George Stephanopoulos did remark that the legislative negotiations of the past few days meant "probably less formal preparations than any candidates in the last 25 years." The scheduled questions will be preempted by the financial crisis, NBC's Tom Brokaw assured us. Jim Lehrer "gets to tee up the economy and he will find a way to turn it into foreign policy."

McCain's debating style is intense; Obama's is laid back. NBC political director Chuck Todd offered some pregame analysis for anchor Brian Williams: "Too hot and too cool, right. It is like which one of them is going to be Goldilocks at this point." CBS' preview consisted of Jeff Greenfield's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly montage of debate highlights past--Ronald Reagan, Ross Perot, Lloyd Bentsen (good); Gerald Ford, George Bush, Al Gore (bad). The ugly was a 1976 clip of Ford and Jimmy Carter standing at their podiums, uncommunicative, for 27 minutes while technicians tried to fix the audio: "If either Ford or Carter had acted like a human being, with a laugh, chatting with the other guy, they might have won hands down."


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