Finally, Adult Behavior

I have been poking a lot at John McCain's fumblings in response to the current crisis, but as I've mentioned, I've also been unimpressed with Barack Obama. It seems to me that this is the kind of situation where serious Presidential candidates need to project a certain amount of seriousness and sobriety -- that they have an obligation to help the American people, and investors worldwide, believe that the government can and will work to stabilize the situation. Instead, both McCain and Obama have given the impression that campaign posturing will likely effectively immobilize the federal government until after the election. (Imagine if the candidates had responded to an international crisis -- say, tensions on the Pakistan-India border -- with the political opportunism, vague platitudes, petty finger-pointing, dismissal of Washington, and barrage of tacky ads we've seen from both sides this week.)

McCain, in my opinion, continued that trend with his big policy speech this morning. First, he made it an overtly political speech, furthering the impression that electoral concerns will trump pragmatic ones for the time being on Capital Hill. Second, he explicitly fast-forwarded to what he will do if elected, upon taking office, to address the situation -- again, implying that the situation will remain essentially unchanged and unaddressed for the next few months. Delivering this speech, just before Bush, Paulson, Bernanke and Cox addressed the nation (and the world) with the outline of the plan they have sketched out with Congressional leaders -- and essentially ignoring that effort -- strikes me as irresponsible. The prepared text of McCain's speech is here.[Update: link fixed.]

Obama, in my opinion, has been guilty of much the same sins all week. But it seems like maybe someone convinced him this morning to change his ways. Instead of the original plan to respond quickly to McCain's speech, he waited until after the Bush appearance, and then gave a cautious, largely apolitical speech. While not specifically endorsing the plan (saying he needed more time to study it), he offered his "full support" to the effort generally, and offered general principles that he would like to see included. He called on everyone not to panic, and to have faith that their government and their institutions will come through this and not be bogged down by partisan wrangling. The prepared text of Obama's speech is here.

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