Talking is Cheaper than Doing

It’s one of those feel-good things that divide liberals from conservatives.  Liberals want to talk.  Conservatives want to do.

John McCain’s jaw-dropping afternoon statement Wednesday that he is suspending his campaign to return to Washington and work on fixing the country’s economic crisis sounded like someone drawing a saber, getting ready to charge the enemy, yelling "Who’s with me?!" Perhaps he should have asked a presumably shocked and perplexed Barack Obama.

But in the end, it should have forced Obama to mount up and join McCain.

Obama instead responded to McCain’s dramatic call to arms with the kind of hedging and anemia we have come to expect. He said in a press conference that he felt the best thing he could do was to…wait for it…issue a statement.

Though he also said the economic bailouts represent a "financial crisis as serious as any we’ve faced since the Great Depression," and "the clock is ticking," and "this cannot fall victim to the usual partisan politics," apparently the crisis isn’t serious enough for Obama to leave the campaign trail. He doesn’t plan to take his ads down, doesn’t plan to skip the debate, doesn’t even plan to go to Washington unless, as he put it, "they need me to."

He wasn’t even sure that he would be in Washington to vote on the bailout, let alone to work across the aisle with Republican leaders to make sure the plan is the best we can come up with. This "moment of great uncertainty in American," as he rightly called it, doesn’t require the attention of the man who would be president. Rather than work on it, he wants to talk about it — by issuing a statement, holding a press conference, and attending the debate.  As he put it, "It’s important that the Democratic standard bearer and Republican standard bearer say this is important."

It’s clear McCain thinks it’s critical that two working American senators take a break from politicking not to say it’s important, but to show it’s important, by returning to Washington to do their jobs — the jobs we elected them to do.

Whether this is, as critics have and will suggest, political grandstanding or a genuine commitment to putting politics aside for the good of American interests, or a combination of the two, it should have forced Obama to follow McCain’s lead, something he’s been very reluctant to do in the past. Whether it was the war in Iraq or a myriad of other item votes, Obama’s successfully been able to position himself as the anti-McCain over the course of the campaign by showing just how many times the two have politically diverged.

And now Obama should have swallowed his pride and a lump the size of our national deficit to accept McCain’s demand and suspend the campaign. Riding the wave of a good-sized bump and statistically significant lead, the timing couldn’t be worse for Obama to abandon the campaign trail.

So instead he devoted a good portion of his press conference to argue that he made the first call to McCain, that he was the one who called for a joint statement.

John McCain just took the reins back, wedging Obama between a rock and a harder rock, forcing him to make the unpleasant choice between politicking and doing his job as a senator.

If American voters wanted change, they got it with John McCain. Who could imagine President Bush or President Clinton, both of whom survived two elections, rolling the dice like this mid-campaign? McCain has broken with tradition, his party, and the business of politics as usual time and again, evidenced by his voting record, his history of reform, his choice of Sarah Palin as vice president and now his decision to suspend his campaign and forego the opportunity to talk foreign policy — his strength — at the first debate.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, a McCain supporter, joined a chorus of Republicans in Washington who have said the call was the right one, commending the candidate for his commitment, and arguing that "John McCain is the person who can get Republican support" that is needed to rescue the economy fast. Sen. Elizabeth Dole said McCain is "doing the right thing coming off the campaign trail to address this issue." And Ari Fleischer, President Bush’s former spokesperson, said Obama’s response proves he is willing to do anything to get elected. What it also proves, of course, is that Barack Obama is too self-involved, stubborn, and prideful to know when it’s time to do what’s right, not what’s politically advantageous.

So folks in Oxford, Miss. will have to wait until Friday night to see who shows up to talk to them. All indicators suggest Barack Obama will be there to do what he thinks is most important right now. Talk.