By Chris Bragg
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
“Today, Democrats and Republicans in Washington have agreed on an emergency rescue plan that is our best and only way to prevent an economic catastrophe.”
That’s what Sen. Barack Obama had planned to tell his audience of about 2,500 at a rally at Mountain Range High School in Westminster last Monday morning, according to the text of prepared remarks the Obama campaign already had sent to reporters.
Surrounded by the flag and his campaign slogan Barack Obama portrays his resolve.
Then came the 228-205 defeat of the financial bailout package in the House of Representatives. The aftershocks reached 1,700 miles to Westminster, where they took the form of a lengthy delay in the beginning of Obama’s speech.
The candidate, who had been expected to begin speaking at about 11:45 a.m., finally walked onto the stage at 12:35 p.m.
Obama’s campaign, like everyone else, was taken by surprise by the vote.
Through the delay, the crowd did the wave, probably unaware the stock market was engaged in its deepest single-day plunge ever. Obama, meanwhile, was on the phone with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and members of the congressional leadership.
At the same time, Obama’s speechwriters plunged into a furious rewrite, revising his remarks to reflect the bailout’s demise. That ultimately resulted in a hodge-podge that had Obama urging a bipartisan effort in Congress in one breath — the new material — and strongly attacking Republican economic policies in the next.
“One of the messages I have to Congress is, ‘Get this done,’ ” Obama said. “Democrats, Republicans step up to the plate and get this done.”
“I’m confident that we are going to get there, but it’s going to a be a little rocky,” Obama said. “It’s sort of like flying into Denver. You know you’re going to land, but it’s not always fun going over these mountains.”
Then Obama went on to attack Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee who also supported the bailout package, with a sharpness not seen during the previous week’s debate between the two.
Of course, most of the remarks had been prepared on the premise that the crisis would have been averted by the time they were delivered.
“He likes to talk about how he’ll take on the corporate lobbyists in Washington, but he put seven of them in charge of his campaign,” Obama said of McCain. “And if you think those lobbyists are working day and night to elect my opponent just to put themselves out of business, well, I’ve got a bridge to sell you up in Alaska.”
“You see, Senator McCain just doesn’t get it,” Obama continued. “He doesn’t get that this crisis on Wall Street hit Main Street a long time ago.”
Obama added that the time has come for “adult supervision in the White House.”
In an indication of what Monday’s speech might have been — had there been more time to respond to the failure of the bailout — Obama’s speeches on Tuesday and Wednesday emphasized the need to pass a bailout and were nearly devoid of partisanship.
During a speech in Wisconsin on Wednesday morning, for instance, Obama mentioned McCain only once.
But not on Monday. And, as the stock market was in freefall, the McCain campaign censured Obama for engaging in partisan attacks during the crisis.
“From the minute John McCain suspended his campaign and arrived in Washington to address this crisis, he was attacked by the Democratic leadership: Senators Obama and Reid, Speaker Pelosi and others,” said McCain senior policy adviser Doug Holtz-Eakin. “Their partisan attacks were an effort to gain political advantage during a national economic crisis. By doing so, they put at risk the homes, livelihoods and savings of millions of American families.”
The Obama campaign responded with a call for bipartisanship and stated that, “today’s inaction in Congress as well as the angry and hyperpartisan statement released by the McCain campaign are exactly why the American people are disgusted with Washington.”
In a subsequent conference call with reporters from Iowa, where McCain was campaigning, Holtz-Eakin tried to explain that McCain had been in helpful in bringing House Republicans to the negotiating table with Democrats by “pushing a process” and not a specific agenda.
On Monday, Holtz-Eakin said, McCain had made “dozens” of calls urging House members to pass the bailout.
Democrats have blamed McCain for injecting presidential politics into a serious economic problem. The risk McCain took in suspending his campaign, only to result in the bailout’s failure Monday, could cripple his presidential bid. A CBS News poll Wednesday showed Obama had build a 9 percent lead over McCain.
Two-thirds of McCain’s party voted against the bill, in opposition to their nominee and their president. Meanwhile, 60 percent of Obama’s party voted for the bill, even as Obama kept a greater distance from the process than McCain did, investing less political capital.
“It is convenient to hang John McCain with every Republican vote,” Holtz-Eakin said. “We will have to start over again.”