There's no charitable way to depict how the nation's two most prominent Republicans are dealing with the financial crisis.
President Bush is like a man who watched his barn burn then called for help. His bleak diagnosis that "our entire economy is in danger" and needs rigorous transfusions of Treasury cash comes after long-ago warnings of a crash to come.
And Republican Sen. John McCain showed disturbing unsteadiness for a presidential candidate. He first proclaimed the U.S. economy "fundamentally sound," then in "crisis." He opposed a bailout, then supported it. Indecision poisoned his poll numbers, prompting his run-for-cover gambit to suspend campaigning while bailout talks continue.
Bush's summons of Republican and Democratic leaders to brainstorm with him on the $700 billion bailout and McCain's threat to be a no-show at tonight's debate with Barack Obama are pure political stunts to conceal their culpability.
These aren't acts of presidential mettle. For McCain, his threatened debate cop-out suggests he can't handle more than one predicament at a time. If he can't debate Obama plus deal with economic calamity, how would he function as president in dealing with two wars, Iranian and North Korean nuclear threats as well as domestic financial instability?
With the election in sight, voters now more than ever need to see and hear candidates under pressure account for their abilities and plans. The burden is especially heavy on McCain, whose party misled the nation into the Iraq sinkhole, drove up unimagined debt and ignored the looming economic collapse, all of which he now claims he can manage with "change."