McCain's move hardly statesmanlike

How gullible does John McCain think voters are?

He suspended his presidential campaign Wednesday and asked to postpone Friday's presidential debate, saying he needed to return to Washington to handle the nation's financial crisis. He said we need to “temporarily set politics aside.”

Set politics aside using a blatantly political move? This is an obvious attempt by Mr. McCain to portray himself as a statesman on the economy, the very issue on which polls say he trails Barack Obama the most.

After a bounce from a post-convention buzz, Mr. McCain trailed Mr. Obama by nine points in a Washington Post-ABC News poll published Wednesday. Those numbers, not the ongoing financial crisis, are what changed over the past few days. Mr. McCain clearly felt the need to shake things up with a bold move. If only it weren't so transparent.

If Mr. Obama had been the one to try this maneuver, voters would have seen it as hollow pandering, too, and rightly so. In fact, Mr. Obama has not been above politics in this either, asking Mr. McCain to make a joint statement saying the candidates needed to show unity.

But Mr. McCain's call to cancel the debate is absurd. Now more than ever, the American people need to hear the two candidates talk about how they would lead the country out of this situation. Ducking the people even as they seek voters' confidence helps nothing. A president has to be able to work on important problems and still talk to the American people.

Besides, what would Mr. McCain's mere presence do to shape the legislation? He's one of 100 senators and not one deeply involved with developing the details of the proposed bailout. By all accounts, he has done nothing on the bailout bill up to now. He hasn't even voted on a bill since April 8. (Mr. Obama hasn't either, since July).

His presence in Washington would do the opposite of what he says he hopes to avoid: introducing presidential politics into complicated and dicey negotiations.

If Mr. McCain wants to put Country First, he should be asking himself how he can be most helpful to resolving this crisis. The answer is not lining up photo ops in Washington when there's important work to be done.