10/25/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

McCain Rebuffs Obama Effort to Issue Meaningful Joint Statement on Bailout

(Update below)

Both John McCain and Barack Obama, struggling to responsibly help the country through the ongoing financial crisis and to display leadership and bipartisanship to voters, made efforts today to work together to help craft a Wall Street bailout deal that would meet the most important concerns of both parties in Congress.

McCain announced he was suspending his campaign in order to focus on the problem, publicly invited Obama to join him in Washington, D.C. to do so, and asked to postpone the first Presidential debate, which is scheduled for 9 pm Eastern time Friday and is limited to foreign policy issues. Obama's position on those requests hasn't yet been reported, but at 3:08 p.m. Pacific time, the Obama campaign issued the following press release:

Subject: fyi

At 8:30 this morning, Senator Obama called Senator McCain to ask him if he would join in issuing a joint statement outlining their shared principles and conditions for the Treasury proposal and urging Congress and the White House to act in a bipartisan manner to pass such a proposal. At 2:30 this afternoon, Senator McCain returned Senator Obama's call and agreed to join him in issuing such a statement. The two campaigns are currently working together on the details.

As Congress and the Administration struggle to craft a mutually acceptable bailout plan, a joint proposal by the two Presidential candidates could prove to be an irresistible force acting on a heretofore immovable object, ratcheting up political pressure and giving both parties political cover to accept the candidates' main proposals.

In terms of election strategy, a joint plan would benefit both candidates, though it arguably would help Obama more. For one thing, it would eliminate "partisanship" as a campaign issue. Throughout the election, Obama has acknowledged that McCain, at times, has exhibited a laudable willingness to reach across the aisle, though he asserts McCain has moved significantly to the right in recent years as he prepared to run for the Presidency. On the other hand, McCain and his surrogates have repeatedly asserted that Obama has no record of bipartisan action whatsoever -- an assertion that already was questionable and that they could no longer make if the two collaborate on historic legislation in a time of crisis.

Similarly, the McCain-Palin ticket has been buffeted by the economic crisis, with Americans blaming Republicans over Democrats by a 2:1 ratio and McCain scrambling to deal with a series of blows, ranging from his article in an obscure actuarial journal calling for healthcare to be deregulated like the banking industry, to reports that a senior staffer, whom McCain said had no ties to a major Wall Street firm involved in the crisis, had actually received payments from that firm until just last month. With his poll numbers sagging, McCain needs both a respite and a public relations success of some kind, which a demonstration of leadership (even shared leadership) on the bailout plan would give him. On the other hand, delaying Friday's debate on foreign policy, which is one of McCain's strengths, will allow the focus to remain on domestic and economic issues, where McCain is weakest; such a postponement may ultimately work to Obama's advantage.

In the end, however, it appears that both candidates are sincere in wanting to help lead the country away from a disaster that, regardless of its source in specific party-advocated policies, would hurt all Americans. Electoral politics are certainly part of their calculus, but the same electoral politics have also, fortunately, placed both men into positions where, if they can resolve their differences, the rest of Washington will have little choice but to follow. In this one instance, it may be that both candidates' enlightened self-interests coincide in a way that's also good for the country. Let's hope it works out that way -- and that this joint effort, to construct a levee that can at least temporarily hold back the waters of economic disaster, serves as a model for the parties to work together in the future, as well.

UPDATE, SEPT. 25: Unfortunately, the visions of unity and selflessness didn't materialize. Last night, the McCain campaign issued a press release containing the joint statement of principles McCain and Obama had negotiated:

"The American people are facing a moment of economic crisis. No matter how this began, we all have a responsibility to work through it and restore confidence in our economy. The jobs, savings, and prosperity of the American people are at stake.

"Now is a time to come together -- Democrats and Republicans -- in a spirit of cooperation for the sake of the American people. The plan that has been submitted to Congress by the Bush Administration is flawed, but the effort to protect the American economy must not fail.

"This is a time to rise above politics for the good of the country. We cannot risk an economic catastrophe. Now is our chance to come together to prove that Washington is once again capable of leading this country."

Nothing but platitudes. Around the same time, the Obama campaign issued its own press release, containing the same agreed-upon language - but adding _ principles that Obama believes must be part of the bailout plan - principles that McCain must not support, since they weren't included in the joint statement. Here's what McCain WOULDN'T sign on for, from the Obama press release:

Speaking for himself, Senator Obama outlined the following principles that he calls on Senator McCain to support:

I believe that several core principles should guide this legislation.

First, there must be oversight. We should not hand over a blank check to the discretion of one man. We support an independent, bipartisan board to ensure accountability and complete transparency.

Second, we need to protect taxpayers. There should be a path for taxpayers to recover their money, and to turn a profit if Wall Street prospers.

Third, no Wall Street executive should profit from taxpayer dollars. This plan cannot be a welfare program for CEOs whose greed and irresponsibility has contributed to this crisis.

Fourth, we must help families who are struggling to stay in their homes. We cannot bail out Wall Street without helping millions of families facing foreclosure on Main Street.

Fifth, we both agree that this financial rescue package should move on its own without any earmarks or other measures. We have different views about the need for other action, but this must be a clean bill.

This is a time to rise above politics for the good of the country. We cannot risk an economic catastrophe. This is not a Democratic problem or a Republican problem - this is an American problem. Now, we must find an American solution.

Simple question: what human being couldn't find a way to sign on to those principles? Electoral strategery seems to have overcome good leadership on McCain's side. Wish it were otherwise. Strategery-wise, however, I'm calling this one a "win" for Obama, who came across as a leader, a bipartisan, and a source of specific proposals over and above pretty words.