Yesterday’s strange pas de deux between Barack Obama and John McCain ended with a form of Deus ex machina, as George Bush summoned Obama to Washington after he first refused to go. McCain suspended his campaign and declared that he would, in effect, get back to work at his current job in order to help forge a solution to a national crisis. Obama, in effect, said he wasn’t needed:
McCain called for his Democratic rival to agree to a postponement until Congress agrees on a $700 billion government plan to rescue banks from enormous debt, saying, “We are running out of time.”
Obama rebuffed his GOP rival, saying the next president needs to “deal with more than one thing at once.”
Both were heading back to Washington on Thursday, summoned by President Bush to attend a White House meeting with congressional leaders in hopes of securing the legislation to rescue the fragile economy.
So who prevailed? McCain wound up with both of them in Washington, and managed to embarrass Obama in the process. Obama held a press conference to explain why he thought it was a waste of time for him to return to the Senate — and he didn’t describe himself in terribly glowing terms:
As I said before, I think that one of the things we have to determine is how we can be most helpful. It’s my sense that the most helpful thing we can do right now is, uh, to let everyone know this is a sufficiently important problem. I can be helpful, and I am prepared to be anywhere, anytime. So, uh, I think the message is, if I can be helpful, I am prepared to be there at any point.
Bear in mind that Senator Obama wants to run the executive branch starting in January. At a moment when his country needs leadership and Congress is meeting to determine policy that will affect the executive branch for the next several months and years, he doesn’t consider his role as a Senator important enough to take part in those negotiations. “If I can be helpful,” Obama says, indicating that he doesn’t consider fulfilling his current responsibilities helpful or even desirable.
Instead he wants to let everyone know that this is a “sufficiently important problem”. Sufficiently important how? Apparently, “sufficiently important” to issue press statements, but not “sufficiently important” to get back to work for a few days. What would constitute a problem “sufficiently important” enough for him to do that? Congress needs to address a $700 billion bailout that Obama has already stated will severely restrict his policy options if he wins the elections. Doesn’t he have a “sufficiently important” interest in that, either?
Obama has another problem with returning to Washington, one that received little attention in the analysis of McCain’s challenge yesterday. Obama has to raise $3 million each day in order to hit his target of $100 million a month. He needs to conduct fundraisers constantly in order to make that goal. Taking three or four days off the campaign trail means a potential loss of revenue for Obama, one he can ill afford at the moment. That’s a “sufficiently important problem” that would keep Obama out of Washington.
McCain won this round. He understood that the next leader of the nation had to put himself in a position of leadership in this crisis in order to have credibility. McCain took the initiative, while Obama had to return after being summoned like a recalcitrant student.