Bill Kristol: “McCain’s bold move could reframe the election–and win it”

William Kristol had a good take on McCain’s recent call to suspend the debate later this week so that he and Obama could return to Washington to help shape the conversation about the current financial crisis. Obama seems to think that a 90 minute debate is more important than being on hand to deal with the biggest financial crisis of the decade and says that McCain should be able to do more than one thing at a time and should still attend the debate.

While most of the liberal media has been critical of McCain, calling this a last ditch effort to save the campaign (Google the news on this issue and you’ll see that most media outlets are critical of his decision). William Kristol, however, disagrees and says that ultimately this makes McCain appear more presidential.

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A Presidential McCain
McCain’s bold move could reframe the election–and win it.
by William Kristol
09/25/2008 12:00:00 AM


THERE’S A REASON voters in presidential races tend to shy away from electing senators. The primary skills of a legislator–talking, compromising, “representing”–are different from those of an executive–deciding, choosing, “executing.” There are individuals who have the ability both to deliberate patiently and act energetically–but it’s a rare combination. The best legislators tend not to be great executives, and vice-versa.

This year, for the first time in U.S. history, both major party nominees for president are sitting senators. The winner may be the one who can convince some portion of the electorate that he’s less “senatorial,” and more “presidential,” than the other.

That’s why McCain’s action Wednesday–announcing he would come back to Washington to try to broker a deal to save our financial system–could prove so important. The rescue package that was so poorly crafted and defended by the Bush administration seemed to be sliding toward defeat. The presidential candidates were on the sidelines, carping and opining and commenting. But one of them, John McCain, intervened suddenly and boldly, taking a risk in order to change the situation, and to rearrange the landscape.

Of course his motives were partly election-related. But “the interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place.” If candidate McCain, for whatever mixed motives, ends up acting in a way that results in a deal that is viewed as better than the original proposal, and that seems to stabilize the markets and avert a meltdown–he’ll benefit politically, and he deserves to. For McCain will have acted presidentially in the campaign–which some voters, quite reasonably, will think speaks to his qualifications to be president.

As for the question of Friday night’s debate, which some in the media seem to think more important than saving the financial system–if the negotiations are still going on in D.C., McCain should offer to send Palin to debate Obama! Or he can take a break from the meetings, fly down at the last minute himself, and turn a boring foreign policy debate, in which he and Obama would repeat well-rehearsed arguments, into a discussion about leadership and decisiveness. And if the negotiations are clearly on a path to success, then McCain can say he can now afford to leave D.C., fly down, and the debate would become a victory lap for McCain.

So the action of these few days becomes more important than the talk of that hour and a half Friday night. One could even say the contrast between the two men in action becomes the true debate over who should be president. The media, being talkers and debaters, love debates, overestimate their importance, and are underestimating the possible effect of McCain’s dramatic action. In the debate itself, McCain should mock the media’s greater concern for gabbing than solving our economic problems, and should associate Obama with such a talk-heavy media-type approach to politics. If the race is between an energetic executive and an indecisive talker, the energetic executive should win.

William Kristol is editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

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One Response to Bill Kristol: “McCain’s bold move could reframe the election–and win it”

  1. […] should do and McCain sometimes followed it (there are lots of examples but go here, here, here, ESPECIALLY here and here…and though some of the early on advice was sound, in its broad […]

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