The Note: Savings and Bailouts

Six lessons of a tumultuous week in the presidential race:

1. The distance between John McCain's short list and John McCain's pink-slip list is sometimes short (and his desires may not have any relationship to actual presidential power).

2. The distance between Joe Biden's brain and Joe Biden's mouth is also sometimes short.

3. It's always going to be about Bill Clinton, to some degree, stupid.

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4. Palin power has its limits.

5. Pig futures and cosmetic prices don't qualify as economic issues.

6. Neither John McCain nor Barack Obama got where he is because of the economy, but neither will either man get where he needs to go without it.

There is exactly one issue that matters right now (which means only one way to make news before the first debate).

And on that issue, the candidates may be only minor players. Staying out of everyone's way is the smart play at this moment -- and that's Obama's policy as of Friday morning -- and will soon be McCain's, too.

Perhaps the most consequential political fallout of this week that brought us a new overriding subject (in a campaign that was desperate for one) is the way in which the candidates' running room has narrowed.

Outside events -- including fresh actions Friday from a we're-still-here Bush administration and a we're not-going-home-yet Congress -- are reshaping the political field.

"Already, even before it is fully played out, the crisis means the next president -- that would be President Obama or President McCain -- will enter office with handcuffs on," Gerald Seib writes in his Wall Street Journal column. "Options are being reduced for the next president every day, as the real and psychological costs of the crisis mount. . . . The mega question -- what is the role of the U.S. government in the nation's economy? -- isn't just on the table, but at the center of the table."

"John McCain and Barack Obama acted Thursday as if either one could be the next victim of Wall Street's epic meltdown," David Saltonstall reports in the New York Daily News. "The supercharged environment led to some red-hot rhetoric on the campaign trail on the all-important -- and possibly decisive -- issue: Who can restore American prosperity?"

"The financial crisis has transformed the race, wiping away almost all other issues. In a purely political sense, the developments are highlighting economic anxiety and putting the spotlight on a topic that Democrats believe will benefit them," The New York Times' Jackie Calmes and Jeff Zeleny write.

"But what is worse for Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain is that they are on the sidelines and yet expected to act as if they have the best information available," they continue. "Another complication is that the candidates have to balance the political need to look boldly presidential against the danger of further agitating the markets or stoking Americans' anxiety."

"This is the September surprise," ABC's George Stephanopoulos said on "Good Morning America" Friday. The fall out from the current crisis is "probably going to do more to affect this presidential race than any other single factor."

At the end of a dismal messaging week for the McCain campaign, he's seeking to turn things around -- and he has a bit of window to make it happen. (Maybe one day to avoid another bad week of news cycles?)

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