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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Let the *Foreign Policy* Debate Go On

As possibly the only person posting here who has a PhD in economics (apologies to anyone I've left out if I'm wrong!), I've wanted to post on the financial crisis. Some of the issues here are simple, but others are quite complicated, and that's why I haven't done posted on this to date. Hopefully I'll get some time to put something up fairly soon.

In the meantime, though, I want to note that I think that

(a) it would be a mistake for the campaigns to cancel Friday's debate, as McCain has just proposed, and

(b) it would be an even bigger mistake for them to change the debate topic to the financial crisis.

From what I can tell, it's critical that there be a sensible bailout. Both Democrats and Republicans on the Hill have signaled rather clearly that this will not happen unless McCain gets on board. And no one should be surprised by that, given these sorts of antics from supposedly new-thinking conservatives. So it makes a lot of sense to me that the two campaigns should agree to a joint statement of principles for a bailout, effectively taking this issue off the table as a nuclear weapon (no doubt each will still use it as a conventional one). According to the Obama campaign, such discussions are under way, and I haven't seen a denial from Team McCain. The key thing is for both candidates to either vote for whatever package ends up passing, or to declare that they would if they voted.

But neither of these guys is president yet, and neither is particularly a congressional force on banking policy. So it seems to me that the bailout legislation can be written without their direct participation. In fact, having them in the room probably just makes things worse by tempting each to demagogue the issue.

For the same reason, switching the debate topic to the crisis, as I've seen some Obama fans propose in the last hour or so, is a terrible idea. Given a statement of principles and a commitment to vote for a bill that satisfies them, the best thing would be for the candidates to avoid this topic til the vote is over; then they can say what they like, blame each other, whatever.

In the meantime, the voters deserve to see the candidates take real questions. Foreign policy is obviously a critical topic. Especially given some voters' concerns about Obama's experience, and others' concerns about McCain's repeated mistakes concerning the most basic foreign policy facts, this show ought to go on. And that view is only strengthened by the bizarre chokehold that McCain and Palin have placed on the vast majority of serious media questions.

Posted by Jonah Gelbach on September 24, 2008 at 04:48 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink

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