McCain aide: "Obama failed to lead"

John McCain's campaign says the failure of a Wall Street bailout bill is Barack Obama's fault.

Published September 29, 2008 7:24PM (EDT)

John McCain's campaign just weighed in on the House vote against bailing out Wall Street. "Barack Obama failed to lead, phoned it in, attacked John McCain, and refused to even say if he supported the final bill," McCain senior policy advisor Douglas Holtz-Eakin said in an e-mail to reporters. "This bill failed because Barack Obama and the Democrats put politics ahead of country."

You win absolutely no prize if you saw that one coming. Since McCain decided to get involved in solving the economic crisis last week, he and his aides have said his move to suspend his campaign and fly into Washington was an example of putting country first (much like his decision to cancel the first day of the Republican convention). The spin isn't entirely off-base -- it is true that Obama stayed out of the middle of negotiations over the bill, and since a deal was reached over the weekend, Obama has essentially called the bailout a necessary evil, which isn't exactly a ringing endorsement. (Apparently voters like this approach -- he's the only major figure who has more people approving than disapproving of his actions on the crisis in recent polling.)

But McCain may be ruing his own decision to get involved, now that his own party has bailed on the bailout. Before he came back to Washington last week, Senate Democrats and Republicans, as well as House Republicans, were close to an agreement on how to modify a White House proposal so they could back it. For a few days, it looked like McCain could claim he was the one who brought House Republicans on board, but now he can't even do that. He may not be as much of a lame duck as the guy whose office he wants to move into, but after last week's gamble, McCain surely wanted the bill to pass.

The question is what both Obama and McCain do next. (Actually, it's not hard to imagine what McCain does next -- he probably accuses Obama of putting his political interests first, like he did today.) But should Obama take the bait, and start rallying Democrats behind the $700 billion bailout? Or should he just keep talking about how he'd like the bailout bill to be fair to taxpayers and homeowners, and not worry about whether Congress can actually pass it?

By Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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