What's more important -- a debate or a financial crisis?

I’m a little amused by the sudden priority of holding a presidential debate today, rather than have two Senators focus on an emerging national crisis that simply can’t be rescheduled.  Earlier this week, Barack Obama described the credit meltdown as the worst financial crisis this nation has seen in almost eighty years, and demonstrated that he didn’t even begin to understand its origins:

They said they wanted to let the markets run free, and instead they let them run wild. And in doing so, they trampled on our core values of fairness, and balance, and responsibility to one another. And as a result, we are facing a financial crisis as profound as anything we have faced since the Great Depression.

Wrong. We’re in this crisis because government intervened to impose its ideas of “fairness”, “balance”, and “responsibility to one another”.  Congress demanded that lenders lower requirements for borrowers and then mandated that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac buy the bad paper and resell them as securities in order to encourage overzealous risktaking.  This is not a free-market failure, it’s a government-mandated collapse, thanks to a Congress that forced “fairness” over discipline and responsible lending.  The fact that Obama to this moment still doesn’t understand that shows that he would not just repeat the same mistakes that led to the collapse, but would redouble efforts to mandate “fairness”, “balance”, and “responsibility to one another” — and lead us into the same trap all over again.

But even beyond that, Obama’s correct in noting the scope of this failure and the necessity of addressing it now.  Given that, our Senators and Representatives should be on Capitol Hill, dealing with the most “profound” crisis since the Depression.  Instead, Obama had to get dragged back to Washington and now wants to leave to hold a debate — on foreign policy. (I guess that beats working out at the gym.)

Putting aside partisan considerations at the moment, what should be the highest priority for our elected representatives at the moment?  Dealing with an unfolding national crisis that Congress has to address, or flying out of town for a debate that could easily get rescheduled — and which has little value anyway?

In order to select the latter, one has to produce even one single tangible public benefit that results from holding a debate on this particular day that outweighs the need to address the biggest financial crisis in decades.  That’s $700 billion taxpayer dollars at risk, as opposed to a debate on foreign policy from two candidates who have been talking about this subject at length for the last two years or more.  What benefit from holding this debate tonight outweighs the need to oversee that kind of risk?

Ruben Navarette has similar thoughts:

Earlier this week, McCain abruptly suspended his campaign and requested that the debate be postponed until Congress finishes the heavy lifting of approving a bailout. That put Obama and McCain in a classic Mexican standoff with each trying to look presidential, while attempting to map out a course that would benefit him politically.

Some in the Obama-friendly media were quick to dismiss McCain’s move as a political stunt. I don’t know. It’s not like launching one’s candidacy in Springfield, Illinois, in the hopes of conjuring up comparisons to Abraham Lincoln, or moving one’s convention speech to a football stadium to accommodate a larger crowd.

The debates themselves are nothing more than political stunts.  They pit two candidates against each other to discuss complicated issues, and give them each 120 seconds to discuss them.  The debates exist to produce sound bites, not public policy.  They’re a game show aimed at people who don’t pay attention to policy and make up their minds by determining who delivers the best comeback.

If the presidential race featured two Governors rather than two Senators, then the debate could go on.  Governors would have no role in developing public policy to address the crisis.  However, Senators already have a job in Washington, and actual policy should take priority over a television show, especially since we still have more than five weeks in which to reschedule it.

Barack Obama and John McCain already have jobs, and in a crisis, that’s where they should focus.