I'm pretty sure I understand why McCain made the
political stunt public suggestion of postponing the first debate so that he could focus on the pending legislation involving the financial crisis. In an election season favoring Democrats, McCain needs a game-changer. Palin seemed to serve that purpose before her favorability/unfavorability rating worsened and the voters started to focus on Wall Street (not her strong suit, needless to say). So now he tries to gain political advantage by saying that he needs to focus on the planned legislation. (For those of you who doubt this is politically motivated, in their 2:30pm conversation today why didn't he propose that he and Obama release a joint statement about postponing the debate -- a la the joint statement that Obama in fact proposed this morning on the substance of bailout legislation?)
McCain's intervention makes passage of the bill more likely. He did not say that he is going to DC to vote against a bailout (which wouldn't justify delaying the debate, since Reid and McConnell could just agree that there would be no vote on Friday night). He made it clear that he is suspending his campaign because he wants to help pass bailout legislation. ("I do not believe that the plan on the table will pass as it currently stands, and we are running out of time.… It is time for both parties to come together to solve this problem.") And the gambit, by focusing on the financial crisis and the proposed legislation, makes passage more likely: anyone who opposes it is in danger of being branded as irresponsible, or failing to put "country first."
Which leads to my complaint: why couldn't the crisis that McCain exploits for political advantage be one that is not so costly to taxpayers? I recognize that "crises" will often involve measures that flunk a cost/benefit analysis. It's hard to imagine that, even if the Doha round had collapsed in September and legislation was in the offing, any presidential candidate would see political advantage in suspending his campaign for the purpose of pushing the Doha round back on track. Instead, the "crisis" will be over the need to give money to domestic automakers or steel manufacturers (remember the "Stand up for Steel" campaign in fall 1998?). Legislation alleviating those "crises" costs real money (up to $50 billion in the case of money for domestic automakers), but that's chump change in comparison to the $700 billion or more for this bailout legislation. And if we were really lucky, we might have a "crisis" that cost us nothing at all, beyond our attention spans. (Where are Quemoy and Matsu when you need them?) Instead, we're stuck with this rushed, expensive bailout bill that seems to be unwise, which McCain's political maneuvering has now made more viable.
Here's a suggestion: if enough public-spirited people would promise to give McCain (well, I guess the RNC -- campaign finance rules, you know) a ton of money on the condition that he would agree to stay on the sidelines for this legislation, then McCain could be in the same position (some amount of money will equal the political advantage he seeks to gain, as that money can translate into advertising and ultimately votes), and we, the people, would be more likely to avoid rushed legislation that seems to have costs greatly exceeding its benefits. At a cost of mere millions, we could avoid a tab of hundreds of billions.