The Republican candidate would probably resent, or make a show of resenting, my description of his call to postpone Friday's debate with Senator Obama as a "gambit." But Senator McCain is a gambler, and has probably played out the possible outcomes in his head. In almost every scenario, if not all of them, he ends up looking more "statesmanlike" for putting the country's needs before the presidential competition. If Obama agrees, McCain looks statesmanlike. If Obama refuses and goes on alone, or (one might hope) with another candidate or two, McCain again looks statesmanlike. If Obama at all remarks about the irony of McCain calling for a postponement after accusing Obama of ducking him all summer, McCain still looks statesmanlike. After all, what matters more: solving the financial crisis or doing a debate? It is a valid question, and the only question that might knock McCain off the perch he wants to climb on is this one: Where were you yesterday? Where were you last week? And his only defense is the fact that we can ask Obama the same questions.
You might argue that it would be a proof of presidential competence that a candidate could do his duty in the Senate and debate his opponent on the same day, and Obama might be able to make such an argument if he hurries to Washington to do his duty, but honesty compels me to say that I won't regret a postponement or cancellation of the entire debate series. They are plainly biased toward the American Bipolarchy because they exclude Baldwin, Barr, McKinney, Nader and their running mates. They barely qualify as debates in the first place, being more like joint press conferences controlled by media moderators. Lincoln and Douglas would laugh at such an affair being called a debate.
On one level, McCain is most certainly ducking the debate he has long asked for. After last week's debacle on the Miami radio station, he's probably terrified of making a gaffe, even if it's as innocuous a statement (as it must have seemed to him) as "the fundamentals of our economy are sound." The financial crisis has given him an opportunity to opt out with an excuse intended to deter the charge of cowardice. The media ought to accept the excuse, on this condition. If McCain intends to contribute to resolving the crisis, then anytime he appears on the Senate floor or in a committee, the networks should go to live coverage, and should do likewise whenever Obama shows up. Depending on how things develop, we might yet have a debate in the hallowed halls that neither man has haunted much of late.
The 5:00 news shows Obama saying that this crisis is the exact time when the public should hear the candidates on the issues. That sounds like he still intends to show up on Friday night, but he'll look rather foolish if he goes alone. If McCain stands his ground, I predict that Obama will bow out himself within the next 48 hours.