Friday, September 26, 2008

Untethered and impulsive

America's capabilities and standing in the world have been seriously damaged by the Bush administration. With America’s economy now further impaired, the prospects for real success by either presidential candidate in the next four years look greatly diminished. The next president’s tasks will be larger and more complex than for any President in decades.

McCain has looked more frantic than presidential during the last 10 days. McCain was in the middle of another week in which (1) Americans were concluding he was clueless about the economy, (2) very conservative columnists were raising serious questions about his running mate's ability to perform even the simplest chores of political leadership, and (3) his campaign manager was revealed as a beneficiary of the same financial institutions to which he claimed Obama had a connection.

Actions always speak louder than words, although for the past two weeks McCain’s words have been loudly schizophrenic. Finally settling on a direction, he decided that the fundamentals of the economy were not strong. He suspended his campaign (but not really, since there have been many different campaign advisors on various talk shows), cancelled his appearance on David Letterman’s show (after which David Letterman thoroughly tore him apart), and attempted to cancel the debate for Friday night – all so he could immediately “rush back to Washington to solve the economic crisis.”

Once he announced to the nation that, as a patriot, he was suspending his campaign and rushing back to Washington, McCain did nothing of the sort. Instead, he rushed to CBS to be interviewed by Katie Couric at the same time he was supposed to be taping the Letterman show. Then he stayed in New York so that he could attend Clinton’s Global Initiative the next morning.

In the debate, McCain will have to explain why he thinks Americans should not view him as a real Republican, and convince us that the next four more years would not be a continuation of the same policies that have run the country into the ground. He also should explain why he was unable to bring everyone to the table, negotiate a bipartisan plan, and solve the economic crisis as he said he would; and why his appearance in Washington seemed to actually cause the delicate negotiations to crumble. Obama cautioned that presidential politics should not be injected into the negotiations. Apparently, he was correct.

In an editorial entitled McCain’s Scapegoat, the very conservative Wall Street Journal used the word “untethered” to describe McCain:

“To give readers a flavor of Mr. McCain untethered, I'll quote at length: ‘Mismanagement and greed became the operating standard while regulators were asleep at the switch. The primary regulator of Wall Street, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) kept in place trading rules that let speculators and hedge funds turn our markets into a casino. They allowed naked short selling -- which simply means that you can sell stock without ever owning it. They eliminated last year the uptick rule that has protected investors for 70 years. Speculators pounded the shares of even good companies into the ground. The chairman of the SEC serves at the appointment of the President and has betrayed the public's trust. If I were President today, I would fire him.’

“Wow. Betrayed the public's trust. Was Mr. Cox dishonest? No. He merely changed some minor rules, and didn't change others, on short-selling. String him up! Mr. McCain clearly wants to distance himself from the Bush Administration. But this assault on Mr. Cox is both false and deeply unfair. It's also un-Presidential.”

Conservative columnist George F. Will picked up the idea and ran with it, calling McCain impulsive:

“Conservatives who insist that electing McCain is crucial usually start, and increasingly end, by saying he would make excellent judicial selections. But the more one sees of his impulsive, intensely personal reactions to people and events, the less confidence one has that he would select judges by calm reflection and clear principles. It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency. It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency. Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed?”

A potential president acting “untethered” and “impulsive” is frightening.

The pundits often describe Obama as “cerebral” (brainy, smart) and cool. Right now, cool-headed, even-tempered, and “cerebral” is sounding really good to me.