Rich Lowry

Obama, on the other hand, owns change, but has to seem reliable and trustworthy. So he displays cool equanimity to McCain's heated turbulence. He has ice in his veins to McCain's Tabasco. McCain says stop everything to deal with the financial crisis; Obama says the campaign can go on even as a bailout bill is written in Washington. McCain wants to rip up the debate process as long established by the sainted bipartisan debate commission; Obama wants to stick to established procedure.

Obama's demeanor the past two weeks has been excellent by typical standards. He has often been talking calmly and deliberately before American flags in reassuring events with a presidential feel. In the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, a majority says Obama would be able to handle a military crisis as president. But McCain's anger, usually a worrisome quality in a presidential candidate, has resonance given a public mood somewhere between Watergate and the stock-market crash of 1929. According to the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, McCain leads among independents by 13 points.

For many voters, McCain probably isn't hot enough. He hasn't yet called for public hangings, after all. If the financial crisis and the bailout that is generating angry calls to all congressional offices had hit several months ago, a Ross Perot-style candidate would undoubtedly have emerged. Who knows? Lou Dobbs might have been pulling a third of the presidential vote by now.

It's too late for a Perot figure, so McCain is doing his best impression of one. It's the latest move that has kept him suspended over thin air, believing -- and hoping in November the electorate makes it so -- that he can fly.

Rich Lowry

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years .
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