So if I were Barack Obama...

What's the harm in calling McCain's bluff?

First of all, I don't think the responsible thing to do is to rush through some half-baked "aid" package which will increase the national debt by hundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars. I work on the general assumption that neither McCain or Obama trusts the free market enough to let it sort itself out. I'll grant that most of the nation doesn't either.

McCain has tied the credibility of his campaign to the urgent (by definition rushed and poorly considered) passage of a bailout plan - ANY bailout plan. Well, more of an idea really, than a plan. He's reacting to a developing economic crisis as if it's part of the 24-hour news cycle. This isn't a media event that will be forgotten in a week. It needs to be carefully considered as though it will impact the largest economy in the world for the next ten years. And if it demands a response, then we should be very careful that the impacts of the response aren't deeper and longer-lasting than the original problem. You know, like the precedent of nationalizing large swaths of the financial sector.

But what if there wasn't a trillion dollar boondoggle solution before the election? How would that play out? There are only two ways that could happen, and both require large numbers of our congressmen to act more like statesmen, and less like politicians.

One would be for congressional republicans to recognize the value of waiting to more carefully consider any action until after the election. Perhaps a modest and narrowly focused aid bill in the short-term as a goodwill demonstration, with the promise to review the matter more fully when more facts are known. If enough democrats signed on to that idea, it could gain some momentum. Most importantly, it could allow a more carefully considered solution without anyone in congress feeling as though they had a gun to their head. McCain would be free then to declare his goal acheived and resume his campaign. Realistically, I think the majority party has enough leverage to prevent this from happening, and to force the congressional republicans to accept a broad, pork-filled package, stuffed to the gills with over-regulation.

The other possibility for a delayed financial package would be that congressional democrats would delay any bill themselves. They, too, could claim the wisdom of delaying action until more facts are known. They could follow John McCain's lead by holding hearings to show the nation how serious they are about getting to the bottom of the mess. They could abandon their own campaigns to call witness after witness to demonstrate how the rich have caused this problem, but it's the middle class Americans who are suffering for it. They could save the last five weeks worth of campaign funds and continue to add to their lead in public opinion polls, guaranteeing a continued lock on both houses of Congress. And John McCain's campaign would be faced with the no-win choice of sitting the campaign out to demonstrate his non-partisan concern for the economy or abandoning Senate deliberations he stressed the importance of in order to return to his campaign.

The right thing to do is not to react too quickly, and John McCain has unfortunately failed this test.