Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
September 25, 2008
POLITICS: The Curious Incident of Reid and Pelosi In A Crisis

Gregory: "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"

Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."

Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."

Holmes: "That was the curious incident."

In politics, actions speak louder than words, and inaction sometimes speaks even louder. With John McCain leaving the campaign trail to go to Washington to join the negotiations over the Paulson bailout bill, there's a fair debate about exactly how important his presence there is, as I will discuss below. But judging by the actions of everyone involved, there's no doubt that even his own Democratic colleagues recognize that Barack Obama is completely irrelevant to the process.

As I noted yesterday, nobody really wants to support the bailout, but the White House and many in both parties on Capitol Hill feel it's necessary, and will back it if and only if a consensus bipartisan deal can be put together. John McCain, of course, has made a career in Washington of being the man in the middle who holds the key to precisely such sorts of bipartisan compromises.

The Democrats' Congressional leadership has zigzagged repeatedly on whether they want or need that help in building a consensus. Wednesday morning, we were hearing that Harry Reid was alternately begging for McCain's help and claiming he already had it to press Republicans unhappy with the deal into supporting it:

Media reports indicate congressional Democrats and Republicans alike are anxiously looking to Sen. John McCain for cues on his stance on the financial bailout package. Stories suggest the GOP nominee's stance on the legislation could prove decisive to its passage. ABC World News, for example, reported McCain "may hold the fate of the $700 billion bailout proposal in his hands. Even with Vice President Dick Cheney lobbying hard for the bill today, top congressional Republicans say if McCain does not support the bill, it will likely die" and "Democratic leaders have told the White House a deal without McCain on board will mean no sale. They say they fear McCain will, quote, 'demagogue' the bill and Democrats on the campaign trail." Roll Call adds, "According to a Democratic aide familiar with the discussions," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told Treasury Secretary Paulson "this week that 'if McCain didn't come out for this thing and come out for it quickly, it was going to begin bleeding Republican votes.' Democrats 'have a very real concern that opposition [from McCain] is going to drive away potential Republican votes,' this aide said."

However, there are conflicting signs in the media on the level of McCain's support for the package. The AP reported McCain "hinted he might vote against" the bill yesterday, calling the price tag "staggering." However, The Hill reports Reid "announced" that McCain would support the package, saying last night, "I got some good news in the last hour or so ... it appears that Sen. McCain is going to come out for this."

More here.

McCain at this point was in the midst of negotiating with Obama a bland joint statement of the need for bipartisan consensus, without saying what it was they wanted consensus on. McCain had, shortly before the announcement of the Paulson plan last week, released his own bailout framework on Thursday the 19th (see here and here), which appeared to lean more in the direction of loans to shaky companies rather than purchases of their inventory, but hadn't firmly committed himself on the deal still being worked out between the White House and the Hill Democrats. But then Reid's call for help was echoed by a summons by Paulson, relayed through Lindsey Graham, that McCain's aid was needed:

Paulson then called, according to my sources, Senator Lindsey Graham, who is very close to John McCain, and told him: you've got to get the people in the McCain campaign, you've got to convince John McCain to give these Republicans some political cover. If you don't do that, this whole bailout plan is going to fail. So that's how, McCain, apparently, became involved.

That's the point at which McCain decided to "suspend" his campaign and return to Washington, even arguing that Friday night's debate in Mississippi should be postponed so as not to interfere with the negotiations in DC. After Obama refused to follow suit, Hill Democrats hastily scrambled to downplay McCain's importance. Barney Frank sneered that "McCain is Andy Kaufman in his Mighty Mouse costume - 'Here I Come to Save the Day,'" while Reid reversed course and said that neither McCain nor Obama would be helpful:

[I]t would not be helpful at this time to have them come back during these negotiations and risk injecting presidential politics into this process or distract important talks about the future of our nation's economy. If that changes, we will call upon them. We need leadership; not a campaign photo op.

Eventually President Bush invited both McCain and Obama to a joint meeting with both parties' Congressional leadership at the White House. The Democrats' insistence on McCain's unimportance didn't last any longer than Reid's original statement. Congressional Quarterly today reported that

McCain's unilateral decision to break off his campaign and return to Washington to push for action on a rescue plan scrambled the political world Wednesday but by Thursday was seen by some Democrats as a way to potentially help line up Republicans behind the final proposal.

Reid himself announced:

With the economic news only getting worse each day, I call on the President, Senator McCain and Congressional Republicans to join us to quickly get this done for American families.

In other words, Reid recognizes the basic reality: McCain is a player in this debate and needs to be a part of any resolution.

But what about Obama? In contrast to McCain's plan, Obama had released lists of general principles on the crisis, but no detailed plan. Obama told the press Wednesday that

what I've told the leadership in Congress is that, if I can be helpful, then I am prepared to be anywhere, anytime.

Neither Reid nor Pelosi has called for Obama to do anything; there has been no groundswell among Hill Democrats for Obama to get involved, and so far as I can tell, nobody is much discussing whether the plan being worked out does or does not satisfy Obama's "principles" or whether Obama's ultimate support or opposition will affect how they vote. And Beldar explains why that silence says everything about what Obama's own colleagues think of his usefulness in a crisis:

What's already abundantly clear in this crisis...without the need for any hindsight, is that Barack Obama has failed to lead.

Indeed, when the crisis engulfed them, those who've had the best first-hand opportunity since January 2005 to watch him try to do his job - his fellow senators, even the leaders of his own party who mouth the words about him being "the next President of the United States" and the hope of a new generation - didn't call a halt to everything and send out a plea for his personal presence in Washington. Their actions and in particular, this inaction, shows that they know in their hearts that Obama is no real leader. They know he's simply a well-cut, slick, but empty suit onto which the trappings of leadership have been projected. And when it comes to putting their own careers, their own modest places in history, on the line, they certainly didn't look to him for guidance.

The only reason for Obama's abrupt 180-degree pivot today was to provide his campaign and his party with a fig leaf: Now they can pretend that both his and McCain's presence and participation in Washington were essential to the striking of any deal. To do otherwise would be to cede the election to McCain outright.

Nevertheless: Except for the sole purpose of maintaining his campaign's dignity, Barack Obama is today the single most dispensable member of Congress.

Oh, well. At least they will get their gold coins with Obama's likeness on them. That's undoubtedly worth more than his leadership or his ideas.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:03 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (22) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

Interesting post, Crank. Well done. Question: What happens if McCain supports a deal and CAN'T rally the GOP troops and it goes down in flames? What does that say about his leadership? Does it hurt his election chances?

Posted by: feeblemind at September 25, 2008 8:38 PM

We'll see how it plays out, but as of now he's staking his entire campaign on this, much the way he did with the surge. And he's yet again turned Obama into a footnote in the McCain high-wire act. The out he has is if the Democrats insist on ramming through such a left-leaning package that McCain and the Republicans are content to vote against it and let the Democrats take responsibility for the whole ball of wax. But I think the Democrats are too scared of passing this without bipartisan cover to do that.

Posted by: Crank at September 25, 2008 8:44 PM

This situation certainly shows the contrast between the two. You can argue that McCain is the bull in the china shop here, grandstanding and perhaps upsetting the negotiations with his presence, but at the same time, he's taking action. Obama's more cautious by nature, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but in this case I think he really comes off as hiding until the problem goes away.

Posted by: Jerry at September 25, 2008 10:08 PM

Wow, wait a second....I have to sit down...Are you telling me..... I just want to make sure about this.... major business is being conducted in Congress and Obama has absolutely nothing to do with it......shocking. Well maybe this one time he decided to sit it out, I mean look at all the other important legislation he was involved with and all the other examples of leadership that he has provided.....

Posted by: dch at September 25, 2008 10:34 PM

Fox News showed a one-minute video clip of the White House meeting. To me, BHO looked so out of place being in that room. He did not look like he's ready to lead anything. If this newbie gets elected in November, the puppet-strings are going to be so obvious.

Posted by: warren at September 25, 2008 11:09 PM

Seems to me, up here in the nosebleed section, that what we're watching can be pretty well summarized thusly -. . .at which point, W hit a sacrifice fly. Deep.

I think we're watching Team R score the game winning runs.

Posted by: Wind Rider at September 26, 2008 7:28 AM

"Paulson then called, according to my sources, Senator Lindsey Graham, who is very close to John McCain, and told him: you've got to get the people in the McCain campaign, you've got to convince John McCain to give these Republicans some political cover. If you don't do that, this whole bailout plan is going to fail. So that's how, McCain, apparently, became involved."

From what you are telling me, the -only- reason McCain was instrumental was because other members of his -own party- opposed the bailout. Not because he has any particular expertise, but they want him to bring the other repubs around. If the dems were balking, it would have been Obama who would have been "instrumental."

So how is this an indictment of Obama??


Posted by: MVH at September 26, 2008 7:35 AM

Not an indictment, but instrumental in a
"So, you know, I think the message is, if you need us, if I can be helpful, Im prepared to be there at any point, kinda way.

Posted by: biscuiteater at September 26, 2008 8:43 AM

Let's see, we have a Republican President who had a Republican congress who gets us into an insane war overseas for untold billions of dollars while asking for no sacrifice at home except for lousy air travel and no liquids on a plane. We see years, especially the last 5 years, of terrible banking policies that aren't policed. And you are trying to blame someone else.

Hmmm....terrible from a character standpoint, but I guess it's good politics. So, does that mean character is no longer important?

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at September 26, 2008 10:17 AM

This Paulson/Bernanke plan, whatever its faults may be, really has to pass unless we really want the markets to burn, and Wall St. won't be the only casualty. You have a republican president behind this plan, as well as most of the democrats in Congress. It's time for the house republicans to suck it up and get on board. Yes, it's politically unpopular, but necessary. I won't view any political party or candidate as a "savior" here.

As Crank has been suggesting, read blackhedd's posts in RedState. The consequences of not doing something by Monday are worse than enacting this plan.

Posted by: MVH at September 26, 2008 10:32 AM

Daryl,

If you want to discuss blame look at the politicians on both sides (but mainly Dems like Barney Franks) who pushed to make credit available to all including people who showed little capacity to handle credit. Idiots like Franks turned credit into a civil rights issue. BS. There were valid reasons why people got turned down for loans related to income/debt ratio, past financial actions, etc. However, politicians looked at numbers that showed minorities disproportionally got red lined. They ignored the reasons for the disapproval and decided the only reason must be racism. Based on that false assumption they pushed lending institutions to approve more risky loans. Add that to an extremely loose monetary policy set in place to recover from the dual financial problems of the last recession of 2000 + the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and it starts to snowball. There is plenty of blame to go around and if you try to place all the blame on any one target you're just being dishonest.

Posted by: largebill at September 26, 2008 11:29 AM

I agree with you today, MVH.

I have been trading distressed bonds for almost 25 years and I know a pickoff when I see one. This bailout that's not a bailout is easy money and we the taxpayers are the only ones with the money to do the job.

I think the Donks are being hoisted on their own petards. They've been railing against Wall Street fat cats for so long that people assume this is a bailout for the hated capitalist on the Street. The bailout will work, I am certain, but not in time for the results to show before the election. So they won't walk out on the ice alone even though they should.

Posted by: spongeworthy at September 26, 2008 11:32 AM

"I agree with you today, MVH"

I didn't think that was possible. The world may in fact end at any moment now. :)

And you are right, it really shouldn't be called a bailout, even though there is some risk that taxpayers may not ultimately come out ahead. But the railing against Wall Street fatcats have come from both sides of the aisle.

Posted by: MVH at September 26, 2008 11:41 AM

From both sides of the aisle? For the sake of argument I'll agree. But now the plan Democrats are trying to sell appear to be benefitting Wall Street fat cats even when that's only true at the very margins. So we all may be on the petard but the Donks hauled themselves up there.

Posted by: spongeworthy at September 26, 2008 12:27 PM

Sponge:

Just for an example, Huckabee rails against the greed of Wall Street here:

http://mainstreetamerica.wordpress.com/2008/09/24/mike-huckabee-lambasts-republicans-for-their-consideration-of-wall-street-bail-out/

And let's be clear - this plan is also being pushed by Bush, so I don't know how you can just call this a plan that the "Democrats are trying to sell."

Posted by: MVH at September 26, 2008 12:59 PM

Largebill, I don't disagree with you on this. Surprised? It's not how it started, but clearly, this has ballooned into something so much larger that it almost intrudes into science fiction. Is there blame to go around? With something this big, of course. But things like this always emanates from the top. And to put it on Frank's shoulders when he was clearly a minority congressman for so long, well, not fair.

But I agree with MVH (another shock!!!!)--hold our noses, pass the damn thing, then vote every sumbitch out of office. Seriously. I wish every single senator and representative really had to fight for a job, not an office they hold until they retire.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at September 26, 2008 1:23 PM

Wait a minute - a republican and democrat, both agreeing with me, on the same day and the same issue? Should I quit now while I'm ahead?

I don't really place too much of the blame for this mess on the politicians. I mostly blame the investment banks and ratings agencies for buying into these risky assets. I'd let them all fail if it weren't for the sake of the rest of the economy.

Posted by: MVH at September 26, 2008 1:33 PM

AMEN, MVH! It is truly the greed of Wall Street that has driven this snafu, and those of us under the age of 50 probably remember the Chases and Citibanks throwing credit apps at us the minute we showed up for our first college class. It's not about the minorities and turning credit into a civil rights issue. It's about profit - at the expense of the overall market.

I read somewhere this AM that the vast majority of citizens - no matter their political stripe - are against this plan, so it's no wonder that we are all lining up together for a change.

Posted by: macsonix at September 26, 2008 2:53 PM

Also, let's recall that it's not McCain's financial and economic prowess that was needed here - simply his ability to be a consensus-builder, which is the very definition of old-school, business-as-usual Washington. Who cares what his personal position is on anything - in this case, he's able to "help" through arm-twisting and coercion. I still don't understand how this is an indictment of Obama in the slightest.

Posted by: macsonix at September 26, 2008 2:57 PM

I never lauded McCain's prowess as a financial expert. I'm talking about McCain's abilities as a leader of men.

Obama's party can't get the job done even in the majority. You would think leadership would help.

Posted by: Crank at September 26, 2008 3:15 PM

It was a chance for Obama to show some leadership skills, some bipartisanship and he dropped the ball. Largely I think that stuff's overrated but since the guy has zero experience solving problems or working across the aisle, you'd think he'd be out front and center here.

Unless he's scared. They don't call him O'Bambi for nothing.

Posted by: spongeworthy at September 26, 2008 3:16 PM

well, the fact is that EVERYONE is scared in Washington right now. The leaders of both parties are playing political hot potato with this crucial issue and honestly, it sickens me. Personally, I've never seen Pelosi and Reid so grossly...impotent. And I've never been particularly impressed with either of them in the first place.

But this is an election year, and our elected representatives are showing themselves for what the vast majority of them really are - poseurs who won't stick their necks out without assessing every possible angle of risk, who will do and say anything to retain their post.

Posted by: macsonix at September 26, 2008 4:37 PM
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