The Note: Bailing Out?

Maybe this is the day Gov. Sarah Palin has been waiting for (does New York City -- not to mention the United Nations -- count as a visit to a foreign country?).

Maybe Sen. Joe Biden just committed the type of gaffe we thought he'd be reeling off at the pace of about one a week (and did his statement of clarification make things even a little bit better?).

Maybe (surely) George Will is not happy that Sen. John McCain has targeted his friend.

Maybe the person who has the best read on what will come out of Friday's debate is Alan Keyes (has anyone else debated both McCain and Sen. Barack Obama?).

Maybe the real story of race in the race has yet to be told.

And maybe we should feel bad for the bailout bill.

After all, it was born morbidly obese in a town that likes to pretend it's all about being lean. Its parents never really wanted one like it -- and we know they'll be out of the picture in a few months anyway.

The men who would be president sure aren't eager to adopt it. Oddly, their critiques sound similar -- reflecting a shared fate: Both McCain and Obama will have to take a stand on a very big issue that could be either economic salvation or a spectacularly expensive failure -- and could wind up being cast as either decisive leadership or a gigantic Wall Street handout.

"Either choice involves political risk," The Wall Street Journal's Laura Meckler, Elizabeth Holmes and Nick Timiraos report. "Opposing the plan could look irresponsible in the face of financial meltdown. But supporting a bailout for Wall Street firms while voters are suffering their own economic hardships could be hazardous, too."

"The similarity in the rhetoric between the candidates matched the similar outlooks of voters in their separate crowds Monday -- an unusual twist, as the two men tend to attract voters with different political perspectives," they continue. "Obama and McCain supporters alike said they saw the bailout as a necessary but upsetting move -- and said it had better include proper protections."

The teams in Arlington and Chicago are game-planning the sequence that will come about as one of the particular pleasures of having candidates who are sitting senators. (Will it be another one of those fun scenes on the Senate floor, the two rivals eyeing each other's thumbs on the eve of their first debate?)

It's McCain who at this moment appears more likely to oppose the bill, a maybe-too-tempting chance to signal a break with the Bush administration in an area where he's still building a political identity.

"Senator John McCain struck a sharply more critical tone about the proposed federal bailout of the financial sector on Monday, calling for greater oversight of how the Treasury secretary administers the program because 'when we're talking about a trillion dollars of taxpayer money, "trust me" just isn't good enough,' " Michael Cooper and Patrick Healy report in The New York Times.

"For Mr. McCain, who has sometimes struggled to connect with voters on the economy, the crisis offered a chance to strike a populist tone and buck an unpopular administration," they write.

But populism comes with a price: "Under the pressure of the financial crisis, one presidential candidate is behaving like a flustered rookie playing in a league too high. It is not Barack Obama," George Will writes in a column that blasts McCain for playing to the cheap seats.

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