There should be no debate about having the debate
As this was written Thursday evening, there had been no further word on Republican John McCain’s intentions regarding what was to be the first debate between the major party presidential candidates. Which would mean that tonight’s debate could be a monologue featuring Democrat Barack Obama.
McCain shouldn’t want that. It’s not fair to the American people. And, frankly, it wouldn’t be fair to the McCain campaign.
This is a time for both candidates — wait, let’s include the vice presidential candidates and say all four candidates — to be in front of the American people, answering myriad questions about every facet of governance as they see it.
We’re guessing that McCain will reverse his Wednesday announcement that he was suspending his presidential campaign.
For one thing, it appears that a compromise has already been reached between Congress and the administration on a bailout for the nation’s troubled financial markets. There is no evidence to suggest that McCain’s suspension of campaigning or his arrival in Washington was a pivotal point in those negotiations.
To the extent that the presence of McCain, Obama and Obama’s running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, is necessary for a vote on the bailout plan, they should be in Washington. But it is unrealistic to suggest that Congress shouldn’t be able to work its schedule around those hours that would be necessary for McCain and Obama to fly to Oxford, Miss., in their chartered planes, hold their debate, and, if necessary, fly back to Washington for, say, a Saturday session.
Debates between the presidential candidates are potentially historic events. They can solidify or undercut the standing of a frontrunner. They can change the tenor of a campaign, at least for awhile. Most often, they reinforce how voters in one camp or the other feel about their candidate. But they can give independent or undecided voters new things to think about.
Given that, which Democratic or Republican congressional leader is going to say tonight’s debate schedule can’t be accommodated?
President Bush invited McCain and Obama to the White House to discuss the bailout package, but that was hardly because either candidate had been engaged in the legislative process before Thursday. Dozens of House and Senate leaders were far more familiar with the package and the give-and-take between the Legislature and the administration than were the presidential candidates. More, Bush’s invitation could been seen as a courtesy to the senator from Arizona and the senator from Illinois, a recognition that one of them is going to have to live with the repercussions of the economic upheaval of 2008 for years to come.
Finally, McCain should get back on track to Oxford because the University of Mississippi has been preparing for this debate for months. Countless hours and millions of dollars has been expended. The university and local schools have used the prospect of the debate as a teaching moment. Now, the time has come, and the debate should go on.