Thursday, September 25, 2008

Suspending the Campaign

I want to start off with some quick points on the issue of "suspending the campaign" to deal with the financial crisis in Washington.

Item 1: Does a person need to suspend a campaign to deal with a crisis in Washington?

There are currently around 400 Representatives and Senators running for re-election in Washington DC, dealing with this crisis. Of this number, how many of them have announced that they are "suspending their campaign" to do so?

Answer: 1 person – Senator John McCain.

The remaining approximately 400 candidates in Washington are dealing with this crisis while they are maintaining perfectly active campaigns. They may not be out giving speeches in their home state, and they may have even cancelled (or warned of the potential need to cancel) campaign events, but none of them have packaged these facts as "suspending the campaign."

Item 2: Did McCain suspend his campaign, or only parts of it?

One of the key components of a political campaign involves raising money. McCain has allegedly suspended his campaign. Yet, I have not seen any evidence that he is refusing to accept any campaign contributions until this financial crisis is resolved. I have not heard a news castor or seen a written article in which the McCain camp has said, "If you want to donate to this campaign, then please wait until after we have passed a financial bailout package. Then, at that time, we will begin once again to accept donations."

Packaging

This "suspending the campaign" nonsense is a gimmick. It is packaging. It is putting the label "new and improved" on the box when the only thing that is new is the label on the box. McCain is doing what hundreds of other representatives are doing. He is simply putting a different label on it.

What reasons could there be in taking something that is substantially the same product as that being offered by 400 other Senators and Representatives, and giving it a different name.

One hypothesis is that McCain has decided to put his product in a different package with a different name because it gives him the illusion of appearing "presidential" – more of a "leader". Yet, if this was actually a part of a product . . . well, there are 400 Senators and Representatives who, for the past two weeks, have been appearing far more presidential than McCain, because they have been in Washington doing their job a lot longer than McCain. McCain’s new packaging that says that he has more of something that, compared to 400 other Senators and Representatives, he actually has less of.

The message may be that "I have more of this product than Obama." However, he could only say this if he acknowledges that, throughout this campaign, he has showed less of these same qualities than 400 other members of the federal legislature.

Advertising

There is one step that McCain has taken to distinguish his actions from those of the other 400 people in Washington dealing with this issue while running political campaigns. McCain has suspended some of his advertisements. However, this tactic contains some interesting elements.

Either John McCain's advertisements contained information that the voters should have before they cast their vote in November, or they did not have useful information.

If McCain’s advertisements had useful information, then McCain’s decision to suspend his advertisements is a decision to have voters cast their votes with more ignorance of relevant information than they would have otherwise had.

If McCain's advertisements had information that was not relevant to the election (if they can cast an equally intelligent vote in the absence of this information), when why was the McCain campaign sending out this information with the message, “These are reasons why you should vote for me for President?”

It has long been the case that most political advertisement does not contain information useful in casting a vote. In fact, a great deal of political advertisement contains dis-information. Their purpose is to cause the voters to believe something about one’s opponent that simply is not true (e.g., that Obama called Sara Palin a pig or that he advocated sex education for six-year-olds). In which case, it is a good idea to suspend this type of advertising, because it means that the voters will have less dis-information.

However, politicians usually do not like to admit that they advertising is not relevant to the voter’s decision on who to vote for. McCain’s decision to suspend his advertising must be an admission that his advertising is irrelevant (or harmful).

Either that, or he must admit that he has made a decision to suspend the promulgation of relevant (beneficial) information.

Postponing the Election

One of the greatest gifts that President Lincoln gave this country was the gift of establishing a precedent whereby nothing – not even civil war – will suspend the Democratic Process. Tyrants throughout the ages have used a national crisis as a reason to suspend elections and to hold onto power themselves indefinitely. If there was ever an opportunity in this country to suspend an election until a national crisis was resolved, the congressional elections of 1862 and the presidential election of 1864 was that opportunity. Lincoln stood for re-election, and established a precedent where the only way to suspend an election is to render the election physically impossible.

Barring nuclear war in which America itself has been attacked and there is no possible way to tabulate votes, we will have our election on November 4th.

If you have a project that is due on a particular date, and you suspend working on that project for 3 days, and there is no prospect for moving the deadline, then those 3 days (and the events to be conducted during those three days) had better be irrelevant to what will happen at the deadline. Either that, or the event must be unimportant, so that it is more important to work on “other things”.

If you have a bomb set to go off in a city at 5:00 pm (an unmovable deadline), and you suspend work on finding and disarming that bomb or evacuating the people for 1 hour, then that hour had better be irrelevant to what happens at 5:00.

Here, it is important that we make the right comparison situation. We have two projects going on – the election of a new President, and dealing with the financial meltdown. However, we should not be comparing the relative importance of the financial meltdown to the Presidential Election. We should be comparing the value of McCain’s participation in the financial meltdown project versus McCain’s participation in the election of a new president project.

For this comparison, we need to look at the relative importance of McCain’s participation in each project.

For the financial meltdown project, we already have a President, his cabinet, and the a full set of House and Senate members working on that project. Increasing the number of participants from 550 to 551 is not going to make much of a difference, except in a highly unusual situation. McCain can leave the financial meltdown project, and work will still get done. In fact, mostly the same work would still get done.

On the other hand, McCain is a crucial player in the elect a new President project. Without him, that project comes to a standstill. And he is willing to bring that project to a complete stand still.

This tells us something about McCain’s values. McCain’s behavior suggests that his essential participation in the elect a new President project is less important than being one of 550 or so key people working on the financial meltdown project. This is what McCain is saying by suspending his campaign – that the project of electing a new president is unimportant enough that bringing it to a standstill is insignificant.

This assumes, of course, that McCain, in the “financial meltdown” project, is simply one person among many. If it were the case that there would be no way of reaching an agreement without McCain’s involvement, then we would have a situation where McCain must actually weigh suspending the electing a President project until he has single handedly brought the financial meltdown project to a successful conclusion.

Is there any reason to believe that McCain is really the white night who is going to ride in and save the day where everybody else is doomed to fail? Or is he simply engineering the illusion of being the white night who saves the day? The answer to this question is the same as the answer to the question, “What would have happened if McCain had died in August? Would the legislators have been able to reach an agreement and pass an aid package without him? If the answer is “yes,” then this white knight performance is just a performance – a costume that McCain has decided to put on for the sake of the cameras.

However, he puts on this costume for the sake of the cameras at the same time he tells us that he is suspending his campaign. There is something of an inconsistency here. If the campaign is truly suspended, then why the theatrics? Theatrics are what we expect from people who are actively campaigning, where ‘suspending the campaign’ typically means 'suspending the theatrics'.

Conclusion

There is a lot about McCain's claim that he is suspending his campaign that makes no sense.

Why does he think it is essential to suspend a campaign when 400 legislators who have been in Washington for days working on this project did not think it necessary to suspend their campaigns?

If McCain is truly suspending his campaign, why is he not suspending the fundraising part?

If it is a good idea to suspend advertising, doesn't this imply that McCain's advertising did not contain any information that would be useful to voters? If the information was useful, then why did he suspend giving out that information?

What does it say about McCain's values that he is willing to suspend his essential role in the "electing a President" project for to work on a project in which his participation is not essential? Doesn’t this imply that he views the "electing a President" project to be unimportant?

In the realm of reason and inquiry, if one theory raises more questions than it answers, then we have reason to look around for another theory. We have a second theory as to why McCain "suspended his campaign" in order to fly off to Washington to participate in the financial meltdown project. It was a campaign stunt. It was a way to grab headlines, to put oneself in the spotlight, which is exactly what campaigners are constantly trying to do. McCain never did suspend his campaign. He just changed his campaign calendar – replacing campaign appearances that were on his calendar with a set of campaign appearances in Washington DC.

The claim that he was suspending his campaign was just another ruse – another example of the McCain ethic of using deception and manipulation to accomplish his desired ends.

2 comments:

Steelman said...

Didn't Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney also use the phrase "suspending my campaign" earlier this year? The meaning of which I take to be, "No longer running for the office in question until further notice."

So, it looks like McCain is officially out of the race. ;)

larryniven said...

"Either John McCain's advertisements contained information that the voters should have before they cast their vote in November, or they did not have useful information."

Ding ding ding! You win the prize. If McCain is suspending that which is good for the country, he couldn't possibly be putting his country first; if he's suspending something that's irrelevant for the country or worse, he couldn't possibly have been putting his country first. Not, necessarily, that we should vote based on which politician does that exact thing - self-interest is hard to avoid when you want to be president - but at least we should try to vote for someone less prone to bullshit.