Opening For A Maverick
Ed Kilgore over at the Democratic Strategist has posted an interesting take on the politics of this bailout. He points to a post yesterday by Patrick Ruffinni that outlines a probable McCain strategy for dealing with this:
Republican incumbents in close races have the easiest vote of their lives coming up this week: No on the Bush-Pelosi Wall Street bailout.
God Himself couldn't have given rank-and-file Republicans a better opportunity to create political space between themselves and the Administration. That's why I want to see 40 Republican No votes in the Senate, and 150+ in the House. If a bailout is to pass, let it be with Democratic votes. Let this be the political establishment (Bush Republicans in the White House + Democrats in Congress) saddling the taxpayers with hundreds of billions in debt (more than the Iraq War, conjured up in a single weekend, and enabled by Pelosi, btw), while principled Republicans say "No" and go to the country with a stinging indictment of the majority in Congress....
In an ideal world, McCain opposes this because of all the Democratic add-ons and shows up to vote Nay while Obama punts.
History has shown us that "inevitable" "emergency" legislation like the Patriot Act or Sarbanes-Oxley is never more popular than on the day it is passed -- and this isn't all that popular to begin with. All the upside comes with voting against it.
Note the framing of the "Bush-Pelosi" bailout plan. Very crafty.
For McCain and other Republicans, voting "no" on Paulson without accepting the consequences of that vote is the political equivalent of a bottomless crack pipe: it will please the conservative "base," distance them from both Bush and "Washington," and let them indulge in both anti-government and anti-corporate demagoguery, even as Democrats bail out their Wall Street friends and big investors generally. You simply can't imagine a better way for McCain to decisively reinforce his simultaneous efforts to pander to the "base" while posing as a "maverick."
He's right. If they go this way, McCain gets to distance himself from Bush by standing on the sidelines wielding a phony pitchfork while Obama, as the head of the Democratic party and thus the leader of the congress, gets splashed in all this muck. It's quite ingenious and a very possible scenario in my opinion.
We will see the rebirth of the phony fiscal conservative image before our very eyes as our brave POW hero, John McCain, takes on the great malefactors of wealth while the soft, liberal elites behave like toadies to the rich. It's a neat trick for a man who owns seven houses and thirteen cars, but in America, you can be a multimillionaire and still be a man of the people as long as you drink a beer the right way.
Kilgore concludes that the Democrats must demand Republican votes in congress including John McCain's. But I don't see the mechanism for doing that. After the campaign he's run, I don't think we can rely on his "honor." So, the Dems can ask, but the Republicans will find a reason to do what they think will benefit them politically. And that is to sufficiently separate themselves from Bush and the congress that they can realistically be perceived as the real change agents.
This is a very delicate and dicey political moment for both campaigns. The polls are tied and we are facing a crisis. In a world that made sense, it wouldn't even be contemplated that McCain could benefit from this situation. And it's still seems highly unlikely that he will --- he's still old and saddled with an unprepared running mate in case he dies. And he's still a Republican. But this crisis could give him the space he's long needed to truly separate himself from the failures of the Bush administration. It's risky, but he's a thrill seeking flyboy and he may very well do it.
Let's hope the Democrats are thinking a few moves ahead on this and don't allow themselves to be trapped into being "responsible" while McCain runs around like some avenging angel and demagogues his way into a victory.