I have a feeling I know what President Bush is going to say in his address to the nation tonight, but the single biggest message has already been sent, thanks to his decision to schedule the last-minute broadcast coming on the same day as John McCain announced he was suspending his presidential campaign to try to wrestle the bailout to the ground. The message is the same as the one sent by Hank Paulson over the weekend, when he asked for unprecedented power and unaccountability in structuring the bailout fund. And the message is not one that politicians should be sending:
I just went to see Tony Blair speak at the World Business Forum in New York, and he said that it’s important to recognise crises when you see them, and then to treat them as such. At the same time, he added, it’s equally important to "remain absolutely calm".
I have to give the edge to the Democrats, here — not just Chris Dodd but Barack Obama as well. They clearly appreciate the severity of the situation, but at the same time they aren’t trying to use scare-bully tactics to push through ill-thought-through emergency legislation which could have decades-long repercussions.
What’s truly astonishing to me is that the markets, at this highly nervous and volatile time, seem to be more grounded than the Administration. When politicians say that the economy is in peril and that we need $700 billion just to keep our heads above water, that’s normally a sign to run for the exits. But so far, that hasn’t happened: they, like the Democrats, appreciate that there probably is a sensible solution to this crisis, if we tone down the rhetoric and work together.
McCain’s statement, in this context, was truly unhelpful. This is panicky, not constructive:
It has become clear that no consensus has developed to support the Administration’s proposal. I do not believe that the plan on the table will pass as it currently stands, and we are running out of time.
This strikes me as a profound misreading of the public’s mood, a bit like Rudy Giuliani’s decision to try to extend his second and final term as mayor on the grounds that only he was qualified to do the job. America does not want to elect a politician who can’t help construct a bailout package without abandoning a foreign-policy debate. Nor should it.