[Posted by Karl]
Patterico, DRJ and WLS have already debated the wisdom of John McCain’s decision to head to DC to work on the Wall Street rescue/ bailout/ whatever, based primarily on their differing assessments of the political impression each believes the decision creates.
It might be worth looking at McCain’s decision from a slightly different, more “meta” perspective. The following analysis is one where the phrase “rightly or wrongly” could be added as a qualifier to almost every point, so mentally add it where appropriate.
Consider the position of the McCain campaign. In the past week, McCain has been the subject of awful media coverage. Last week was one of the rare weeks when McCain got more media coverage than Barack Obama — and his poll numbers fell (the opposite relationship had been true previously, for both McCain and Obama). Much of the coverage was about the Wall Street turmoil, starting with McCain getting dinged in the press for saying that the “fundamentals of our economy are strong.” But there was also a growing media Narrative about McCain’s campaign being dishonest and playing the race card, which led to the campaign attacking the media, which led to the media doubling down on their criticism while ratcheting up complaints about lack of access, criticism that McCain was trying to change the subject from the economy, etc. This Narrative might have been helping Michele Obama’s kids, but it was not helping John McCain’s campaign.
McCain’s decision to head back to the Senate reset the mediasphere’s Narrative. Compare Memeorandum at 3:30 PM ET yesterday with 5:00 PM ET. McCain’s fight with the New York Times, discussions about McCain’s poll standings, criticism of Sarah Palin, etc. all start dropping off the radar, particularly among the Big Media outlets. Coverage of Obama mostly shifted to his reaction to McCain’s action. Meanwhile, Pres. Bush called on Obama to attend a meeting in DC today, which he agreed to do (mostly because it is nigh upon an offer one cannot refuse). Thus, Obama is forced off the campaign trail for a day, into a forum where partisan rhetoric blaming Bush policies or linking McCain to the “old boy’s network” will turn off voters in the mushy middle. Moreover, Obama’s appearance will create the impression among some that DC is in fact the place to be at this moment in history.
Did McCain make the “correct” decision here? I don’t pretend to know with any degree of certainty. Reasonable arguments can be made on both sides (and have been on this blog alone). However, Camp McCain seems to have concluded that they prefer having everyone debate the question; it is the battlefield Camp McCain has selected. The campaign forced the media focus to what McCain is doing with respect to this decision. Whatever criticism the campaign gets for the decision apparently was deemed by the campaign to be an improvement over the volume and tone of the criticism the campaign was getting before the decision.