Bailing out the campaign

All in all, it would have been better if John McCain and Barack Obama had stayed out on the trail and kept on campaigning.

But McCain, in what seemed an impulsive gesture, announced he was suspending his campaign to fly back to Washington — first stopping to confer with CBS’s Katie Couric — to broker a compromise on the bailout package.

Out of political necessity, both McCain and Obama have been absent from the Senate much of the last two years, so it’s hard to figure what their sudden presence in Washington would add to the negotiations, which already had been underway since last weekend. Neither of them, for that matter, has any kind of reputation as master legislative dealmaker.

Obama’s contribution to resolving the crisis was to propose a joint statement with McCain and, while this might be admirably bipartisan, one suspects that the bulls of Wall Street haven’t been holding back for the lack of a reassuring joint statement.

Obama was forced to return to Washington when President Bush summoned him, along with McCain and other members of Congress, to a White House meeting. Like the president’s primetime address, this meeting was perhaps intended to show that Bush is actively engaged in the crisis, although the actual heavy lifting on the administration side has been in the capable hands of Treasury secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke.

Further adding to the appearance of political calculation by McCain was his camp’s proposal to postpone Friday night’s debate until Thursday, in place of the vice presidential debate scheduled for that day. Whatever the motivation, it looked like an attempt buy time for additional preparation by his running mate, Sarah Palin.

Palin’s campaign also went into a brief suspension and again it was not clear why, since not being a member of the administration or Congress, she has no part in crafting the bailout package.

Whatever their senatorial duties, the two candidates, having sought and won their respective presidential nominations, now have a clear duty — to work full time between now and Election Day to give the voters the fullest sense of themselves, their policies and their leadership abilities.

They need not worry about the bailout package. It will be handed to the winner.