It's hard to believe that John McCain's time-out and rush to Washington will have any practical effect on the matter at hand, passing a bailout bill. It could have the opposite effect, by injecting presidential politics and posturing into an intricate, and politically volatile, matter of policy. But influencing the policy, for good or ill, doesn't seem to be what McCain's after. It's all about optics: he wants voters to see him as a leader capable of overcoming the partisan divide.
This doesn't make much logical sense coming on the heels of nearly six weeks of divisive culture war politics. But it amounts to an appeal to one of the most dearly-held big media assumptions -- that partisanship is always the problem and bipartisanship always the answer. In this view (reiterated, predictably, in today's David Broder column, which blames both Congress and the White House for the government's lack of credibility in the crisis) grand bipartisan gestures -- bringing everyone together to solve the nation's problems -- are the only way out of gridlock. Making these gestures is a sign of true leadership. Needless to say, this is a highly symbolic and unrealistic approach in a political landscape largely shaped by partisan Republican policies.
The McCain campaign tried to exploit the media's tendency to seek out false equivalencies in fact-checking its ads and rhetoric. When that didn't work so well, it attacked the media. Now it's betting on another political media tic, the yearning for a kind of bipartisan utopia. Will it work?
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