Thursday, October 8, 2009

Should Senator McCain Get A Do-Over?

Think back to the 2008 presidential campaign for a minute. Many voters understandably had, well, issues with Sen. John McCain's issues and voting record--even though virtually every reasonable person has the utmost respect for his incredible service to our country.

And one other detail. Unlike the current occupant of the Oval Office, Sen. McCain's rich resume qualified him for the job regardless of whether the voters saw eye to eye (or is that aye to aye?) with him on everything or had misgivings about the McCain agenda. And had the Arizona senator been elected, there would be no runaway federal spending, haphazard national and international security policies, or this strange obsession with socialism, among other things.

Sen. McCain (as did Obama) voted for the TARP bailout; given the economic hysteria at the time, he probably thought in good faith that that was the statesmanlike thing to do. While most of us would probably get sick to our stomach if we had access to the inside machinations of the political world, occasionally good politics and good policy do come together. Occasionally.

However, now comes word via the Washington Times that things were even worse than we thought:
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and former Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. misled the public about the financial weakness of Bank of America and other early recipients of the government's $700 billion Wall Street bailout, creating "unrealistic expectations" about the companies and damaging the program's credibility, according to a report by the program's independent watchdog.
The federal government last October loaned Bank of America and eight other "healthy" financial institutions a total of $125 billion - the initial payout from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP - in an attempt to avoid a series of major bank collapses that would push the sputtering economy into a free fall or depression.
The rationale for giving money to stable banks and not failing ones, regulators said, was that such institutions would be better able to lend money and thus unfreeze tight credit markets - a major factor in last year's Wall Street losses.
But an audit released Monday by TARP Special Inspector General Neil Barofsky says senior government officials and Wall Street regulators, including Mr. Bernanke and Mr. Paulson, had "affirmative concerns" that several of the nine institutions were financially shaky.
Was it around Labor Day that Sen. McCain pulled ahead in the polls? Then the economic meltdown happened, which crushed his momentum--although the media predictably failed to ask McCain's opponent about his (Obama's) plans to address the financial emergency.

That notwithstanding, Sen. McCain had a golden opportunity to recapture the momentum in the first presidential debate on September 26, 2008, and win the election--despite his lackluster presentation skills and despite ACORN's best efforts.

Did he listen to bad advice from his handlers or was it on his own initiative? Perhaps history will tell use eventually.

Remember, in the run-up to the first debate, Sen. McCain suspended his campaign and floated the idea of postponing the first debate to return to Capitol Hill to intervene in the so-called Paulson financial rescue plan. McCain was roundly criticized for that idea (the same media that refused to hold Obama's feet to the fire on the economic crisis). But the pundits were wrong as usual; the suspense gave McCain an absolute stranglehold on the media campaign coverage--which is exactly where a candidate wants to do.

The debate ultimately went forward on schedule, and there the Senator blew a golden opportunity before an estimated 52.4 million viewers to recapture his lead in the polls. First, he failed to explain to the American public why he suspended his campaign in the first place. (Most people don't have time to follow the news very closely.) His second mistake was pledging on national TV to vote in favor the Paulson bill when it reached the Senate chamber. At the very least he could have hedged, no?

Here's what the senator should have said during the debate:
  • I suspended my campaign and returned to Washington because the House Republicans were not given a seat at the negotiating table. I personally intervened so that both political parties could play in role in writing the legislation for the benefit of the American people.
  • No bill will ever be perfect but Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle should have an opportunity to participate in the process.
  • That being said, I can not support the bill in its present form because it lays the entire pricetag for the corrupt practices of the government and Wall Street at the feet of the American taxpayer.
  • In 2005, I supported a bill that would have reformed the abuses of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two agencies deeply involved in the subprime mortgage scandal. Senator Obama received massive campaign contributions from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Senator Obama and his friends blocked that legislation from going through. Had my legislation become law, we could have minimized this crisis--or avoided it altogether.

Sadly, Sen. McCain said none of this. This was one occasion where if the senator had put himself first, he would have also put the country first.

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