Editor’s Column – McCain’s Generosity Up For Debate

Amanda McKeon

Cheap ploys and quick grabs for attention are part of the many unwelcome complications of politics. When disaster strikes, politicians flock to the scene; photos are taken and sound bites are recorded. Any relief work is helpful, but exploiting a dire situation for political gain is low and selfish.

When the credit crisis came to a breaking point last week, there was an undeniable feeling of panic and disaster. What the situation required was cooperation and a swift, effective response. John McCain, apparently, thought this man-made disaster was rife with opportunities to gain a political advantage.

Selflessly, Mr. McCain announced that he planned to cease all campaigning so that he could focus his every effort on finding a solution to fix our credit market. As part of his decision, Mr. McCain also felt that he could not debate.

Instead of announcing that his campaign was suspended, could Mr. McCain not just have canceled any conflicting events and attended meetings as per his duty as a senator? While I agree that both campaigns made the most appropriate decision — participating in the meetings instead of campaigning — I believe that the McCain campaign’s insistence on postponing the debate corrupted any good intention that may have been behind his insistence on participation in formulating a bailout plan.

Releasing a statement and attracting media attention does not make Mr. McCain look like a devoted, selfless public servant. Rather, he resembles an attention monger looking to exploit a national crisis. For his campaign to believe otherwise insults the intelligence and ignores the perceptiveness of the public. In drawing attention to his plans, Mr. McCain attempted to conjure an image of dedicated reformer; in reality, I believe his actions only served to politicize a serious crisis that required immediate and focused attention.

What is worse than the scene made in the wake of the campaign’s announcement is the insincerity Mr. McCain demonstrated during Friday’s debate regarding voting for the proposed bailout plan. When asked by moderator Jim Lehrer if he planned to vote in favor of the bailout, Mr. McCain responded with a weak, “I – I hope so.” Pressed for a more decisive answer by Mr. Lehrer, Mr. McCain could only respond with a meek declaration of “Sure.”

I hope so? Sure? These responses lack confidence and sound passive and unsure. Consider for a minute that these answers come from a man who so passionately wanted to help find a solution that he suspended his campaign for the highest office in the nation and felt that absolutely nothing could interfere in his efforts to find a solution to the crisis in the credit market.

Mr. McCain’s dispassionate responses only reinforce my belief that politics have become a competition of who can make the grandest gesture, take the most profound photograph and coin the best slogan for the nightly news. He and other politicians (of both parties) who use crises and disasters as means to garner recognition waste their efforts — they become caricatures of seedy and opportunistic politicians.

Both candidates acknowledged during their debate that mistakes and oversights had been made in the past in our credit market. Perhaps if our leaders had focused less on their political images (and on generating endless good publicity) and more on the swelling and emerging problems in our economy, our credit markets would not be in such dire straits.