As the presidential campaign comes down to the final lap, it's been interesting to watch the strategies of both sides, none more clever and brilliant than Sen. McCain's announcement last week that he had to suspend his campaign to rush back to Washington to work on the massive financial bailout plan working its way through congress.
First, since he is not receiving donations from private citizens, he has no incentive to be on the trail fundraising. He's received about $84 million of taxpayers money so far, so he doesn't have to manage a big fund-raising machine.
But second, there is no suitable response from Sen. Obama to the McCain announcement. If Obama challenged McCain by saying that he disagreed with him on the subject of suspending the campaign, he looks insensitive to the plight of millions of people whose lives and livelihood are at risk. He can't say McCain is 'over-reacting', when it is clear that the risks to the American economy are indeed dramatic.
If he announces agreement with Sen. McCain, he looks like he is playing 'catch-up', since McCain had the idea first, and he - Obama - would be faced with the prospect of doing the same: suspending his campaign, and stopping the juggernaut of a fundraising machine he has put into motion (Obama has declined public financing of his campaign, so he has to raise his own money).
Either way, he is thrown into the defensive position, something he is not accustomed to.
Never mind that many congressional leaders privately mocked McCain's move - Barney Frank, for example, claiming that McCain was coming to solve a non-existant deadlock in the negotiations.
Never mind that one leader, even of the stature of McCain, Obama, Pelosi, Reid, Paulson, Bernanke or other economic heavy-hitters, do not individually have the ability to save the country from this mess.
McCain was determined to ride into Washington on his white horse to save the day, even at the personal sacrifice of suspending his presidential campaign. It was a big, bombastic move, but one practically impervious to criticism.
If I was working as a spokesperson for Sen. Obama, I would have cringed at the prospect of having to craft a response to the McCain announcement. This is about the best I could do: I'd have Sen. Obama announce:
"...this is not the heroic John McCain, who survived Viet Namese prisons. This is a grand-standing Senator, in the twilight of his career, rushing back to save the nation from the mess, for which he is at least partially responsible."
With this message, Obama would acknowledge the patriotism of his military service, but still hold his feet to the fire of 'Rome burning."