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The Political Windfall of Inaction

12:39 PM, Sep 30, 2008 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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There's an astounding admission buried in this NYT account of the failed bailout vote yesterday:

Aides to Mr. Obama said he had not directly reached out to try to sway any House Democrats who opposed the measure. But where Mr. McCain had accused Mr. Obama of taking a hands-off approach to the financial crisis, Democratic advisers said they believed that Mr. McCain now had a role in the legislation's failure.

Really? The man who was ostensibly working the phones such that he was confident enough to predict the passage of the bill in prepared remarks sent to reporters yesterday, in fact, made no phone calls to assure the passage of said bill. The man whose party has no particular philosophical aversion to government interference in the markets and is in control of Congress. The man who's been assuring voters of his very serious weighing in by phone from the campaign trail...didn't actually pick up a phone. This is the real Obama. He is a leader of crowds, not crises.

This won't be a story, but it should be, and Republicans and McCain should point it out. The argument against Dems is the utter lack of competent leadership by Obama and Pelosi, not whining about a Pelosi speech.

Pelosi lost more than 12 of her fellow California Democrats, close friends and allies, and Committee chairs in this vote. Obama failed to take a public position on the vote or to convince any teetering Democrats with promises of a trip to their Districts or other help from the Messiah himself, losing Dems from the Chicago area and much of the Congressional Black Caucus with whom he could have had sway.

And yet, the guy who got his hands dirty, tried to make a few things happen, and didn't quite get the ball across the goal line is the one who takes the political heat for this. Which is why, as Bill Kristol and Dean Barnett have suggested, McCain may as well go all-out on the leadership front. It's where he's comfortable working, and where Obama will never dare to walk ahead of him.

Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, Maxine Waters, and Nancy Pelosi willfully ignored the impending crisis for years before they suddenly saw the light and were able to blame a politically palatable entity for it-Republican embrace of "unbridled" capitalism and deregulation. They too seem to have reaped the benefits of inaction, succeeding in pinning the blame on the markets they meddled with, letting their vulnerable members oppose an unpopular bill, and possibly getting a second run at a bailout bill filled with the pork they cut out the first time around.

In Washington, sometimes "leadership" ain't all its cracked up to be. But isn't the political windfall of inaction-conveniently kvetching without responsibility-usually a privilege reserved for the minority party? Pelosi and Co. seem to be enjoying it no matter the circumstances. Maybe that's the "change" Obama's been talking about bringing to Washington.