McCain's lament: There was so much pressure!

The senator from Arizona recalls the week that decided the 2008 election -- but not the way the rest of us do

Published August 3, 2009 8:40PM (EDT)

John McCain, wrote Wall Street Journal "senior economics writer" Stephen Moore on Saturday, is living the happy warrior good life "focusing singlemindedly on holding back Obamanomics." Good for him, I suppose, but after mulling over Moore's interview with McCain, I think it might behoove the former candidate to get some perspective on last year's campaign. Because he doesn't seem to have a very clear recollection on what just happened.

First, there is his contention that picking Sarah Palin was the high point of the entire campaign. Oooookay.

But even better is a section highlighted by Noam Scheiber at the New Republic.

He certainly was dealt a lousy hand. But I challenge him on whether he might have played that hand better. During the first days of the financial crisis, Mr. McCain looked indecisive and worse, a creature of Washington insider politics. Why did he suspend his campaign, and why did he vote for the $700 billion bank bailout plan, which was wildly unpopular with voters?

"You have no idea the pressure I was under," he says. "I remember being on the phone with President Bush, Vice President Cheney, the Treasury secretary and [Fed Chairman Ben] Bernanke. They assure me the world financial system is going to collapse if I don't vote for the bill. So I do the impetuous and rash thing by saying, look, I have got to go back to Washington and see how I can help. And by the way, so did Obama -- but it was McCain that was the impetuous one. Obama came back to Washington." Mr. McCain grumbles, "He was at the White House with me. But he wasn't impetuous." This is the only time in our interview he shows any bitterness about the campaign.

Scheiber calls this "ludicrous" and "downright delusional." He is too kind. The election was decided the week that McCain suspended his campaign, tried to duck a presidential debate, and returned to Washington -- where an anxious nation watch him achieve nothing besides injecting even  more uncertainty into a highly confused situation. The electorate saw him crack under the pressure, while the other guy ended up looking, by comparison, calm and measured -- just the kind of guy you might want as president when total chaos is raging through the global economy. When McCain says "you have no idea the pressure I was under" -- he is demonstrating right there, in his own words, why he would have been a terrible choice as president. His lack of self-awareness is incredible. The jury is obviously out on how good a president Obama will be. But the mind boggles at what we would be facing under a McCain administration.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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