The nation's economy is on the precipice, but Barack Obama has more important things to attend to. He's a man in a hurry to be president, and a little thing like the collapse of the U.S. credit markets won't deter him. In fact, he sees it as an opportunity. By Obama's calculation -- and that of many of his supporters -- the worse mess the economy is in, the better his chances are to win the Oval Office.
But John McCain has other ideas. He actually believes it's his duty to deal with the crisis at hand, which is why he temporarily suspended his presidential campaign Wednesday to return to Washington. Before he asks voters to elect him to a new office, McCain will fulfill what the citizens of Arizona have six times elected him to do -- legislate; this time on an issue that has momentous consequences for all Americans, rescuing the credit markets on which much of the U.S. economy depends. McCain is willing to put partisan differences and his presidential ambitions aside for the moment and do what's right for the country.
Obama thinks what's right for the country is to elect him, period. This is, after all, the man who declared that his selection as the Democratic presidential nominee will be remembered as "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal" and who assured his devotees: "We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."
Barack Obama has what can only be described as a Messianic vision of his own powers. It is beyond hubris; it verges on delusional. Before securing the Democratic nomination, Obama's single biggest achievement was to win his Senate seat by beating a perennially losing candidate and carpetbagger from Maryland.
Since his election to the Senate, Obama has produced scant legislative accomplishments. He's lent his name to largely non-controversial bills -- like the Lugar-Obama initiative to destroy stockpiles of heavy conventional weapons that might end up in the hands of terrorists and promote nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction -- but he hasn't engaged in the nitty-gritty of forging difficult legislation with bipartisan support.
McCain, on the other hand, is consistently rated by his fellow senators and outside groups as one of the Senate's most effective members. He's tackled thorny issues from campaign finance and immigration reform to overcoming gridlock on judicial nominations -- all with bipartisan support. And, unlike Obama, McCain doesn't just put his name on an effort and show up for photo ops, he involves himself in the actual drafting of proposals and participates in negotiations that achieve real results.
McCain is a risk-taker. When he supported sending additional troops to Iraq for the so-called surge, public support for the war was at its lowest point and the military situation in the country looked dire. But, he said that he would rather lose an election than lose a war.
Obama thinks the election is the only war that counts, and he aims to win it. As for risk-taking, he'll do nothing that he thinks might stop his juggernaut from capturing the White House, which is why he insisted that Friday's first presidential debate go on as scheduled, financial crisis be damned. If Obama had agreed to McCain's proposal to hold 10 town hall meetings, then Friday's debate could easily have been postponed while both men stayed where they belonged, in Washington. Instead, Obama made it clear that he would be in Oxford, Miss., and McCain had no choice but to return to the campaign trail.
These two candidates have been campaigning for months, but the American people have never had a clearer look into what drives them than they had this week. One man's ambition is to become president. The other man's ambition is to get things done.
In the vagaries of a presidential election, it is never possible to predict how voters will react to events. But character often trumps party affiliation or even specific policy concerns when it comes to determining which candidate will prevail. And when it comes to character, John McCain once again proved this week that he has the edge.
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