A Gallery colleague asked me yesterday what I thought of McCain suspending his campaign, and I offered the bum mot that, given he’d double-crossed Obama in doing so, he was to be congratulated on showing the necessary amorality that any president needs. McCain had told his rival a few hours earlier that he was prepared to release a joint statement of principles on the financial crisis, and while Obama’s campaign team congratulated itself on conjuring a fine display of bipartisanship, McCain was busy trumping them.

Then I read in Slate that McCain was just doing to Obama what Obama had previously done to McCain, which wiped the anti-Obama smirk off my face.

In any event, with George W. demanding Congress approve Paulson’s rescue package or risk endangering “the whole economy”, I’m less inclined than ever to believe this is the crisis it is made out to be for anyone not riding a screen. You can tell me how wrong I am when you meet me riding trains with all the other hobos during the next Great Depression. I’ll be the one wearing a filthy, ragged Crikey cap.

Despite McCain’s bravura gesture of nonpartisanship about the financial turmoil, you suspect it has ended his presidential chances. Or for that matter, smoked them. “Smoked” is, apparently, the phrase du jour among investment banking types who have lost millions watching stock prices collapse in recent days. As in, “I got totally smoked today”. McCain was doing a sterling job differentiating his product from the stuff served up by Republicans over the last eight years, but such is the putrescent stench now emanating from the party of Lincoln that it will follow McCain wherever he goes. The only way he’s got a chance is if he gets Sarah Palin to grab her hunting rifle and smoke a few Wall St execs from a chopper.

Which, on reflection, is not entirely beyond him.

Having jetted back in to Washington to gatecrash the negotiations over the bailout deal — Dubya managed to issue him and Obama an invite en route — McCain is now being accused by Democrats of wrecking the deal being trumpeted just a few hours ago. That’s politics — but old-style politics. Remember that favourite phrase of the neocons, “10 September thinking”? Now there should be some handy phrase denoting that delusional way of viewing the world before the Wall St disaster opened our eyes. Pre-Lehman thinking, perhaps? Post-Lehman, capitalism stinks, greed is no longer good, investment bankers are the bastards, not the masters, of the universe. McCain’s only faint chance of escaping the Republican stench is to adapt to the post-Lehman mindset faster than Barack Obama, who for all his “change” guff is from the same economic centrist tradition that entirely dominates US politics.

It’s not entirely beyond him, given his “maverick” act. Sarah Palin, that spearcarrier of smalltown Republican virtues, could present a strong case for “cleaning up Wall St”.

The two biggest opponents of the bailout deal are right-wing Republicans who object on free market grounds, and liberals who object to taxpayers bailing out the financial sector. For the moment, whether you’re for the bailout or against it is the most important and interesting political divide in America. How McCain exploits it will determine whether he can rescue his vanishing chance of becoming president, but you wouldn’t put your money on his being agile enough.

Oh, and American and Pakistani forces engaged in a firefight yesterday. At least when Nixon expanded the Vietnam War into Cambodia he got the “permission” of Lon Nol. Dubya hasn’t bothered to do that with Pakistan. Maybe he can wreck McCain’s last remaining advantage — in foreign policy — in the next six weeks. Time enough if good enough.

Peter Fray

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