McCain leads, Obama follows

The neat thing about a presidential race between two Senators is that voters can make direct comparisons between the candidates that otherwise are not possible. This year, the comparisons work in John McCain’s favor.

McCain pushed for the “surge” in Iraq. Obama opposed it, saying it wouldn’t work. When it worked, Obama said he knew it would work, but defended his vote anyway.

Two years ago, McCain warned that Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac were in serious need of reform and he so-sponsored legislation to reform it. Obama did not support this legislation, which the Democrats blocked. Obama was near the top of the list of recipients of contributions from Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, and two executives from these outfits were among his campaign advisors.

McCain also had the right line on the Russian invasion of Georgia (though this was not a legislative issue). As Rudy Giuliani recounted at the Republican Convention, Obama waffled for a while and eventually adopted McCain’s view. McCain led; Obama followed

Most recently, McCain figured out that he needed to get back to Washington to engage, and if possible provide leadership in, the momentous issue of the financial sector bailout. While McCain opted to help make something happen, Obama said he could be reached by phone if anything did happen.

Obama’s position was untenable, so he eventually followed McCain back to Washington.

Hoping to cover for their “follower” of a presidential candidate, Democrats are claiming that McCain has done more harm than good in the legislative debate. Although this is always a possibility with McCain (and, indeed, just about anyone who is willing to lead), the Democrats’ case is absurd.

Their argument is that Congress was on the verge of a deal until McCain entered the picture and caused Republican House members to block it. The problems with this script are several. First, there is no evidence that House Republicans were ever on board with any deal. Second, the support of House Republicans is not needed to pass bailout legislation. The Democrats control the House.

The Democrats counter the second point by saying that a majority of House Dems won’t support a deal unless House Republicans provide “cover.” But this argument raises more problems than it addresses. First, it is a serious condemnation of House Dems (too gutless to do what they think is right, even in the face of a potential economic meltdown). Second it is a serious condemnation of Nancy Pelosi (too ineffective to whip her troops into line even in the face of a potential economic meltdown). Third, it casts serious doubt on the wisdom of the deal that McCain is falsely accused of scuttling. If the deal made sense, House Dems wouldn’t believe they need “cover” from House Republicans.

Fourth, the “cover” argument shows what a non-factor Obama is in all of this. The Dems complain (preposterously) that McCain has riled up House Republicans or failed to bring them around. Meanwhile, no one seems to be asking why Obama hasn’t helped the House leadership obtain sufficient support from House Dems.

There’s a reason why this question isn’t being asked. Obama is lightweight from whom leadership is not, and should not, be expected.

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