Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
No memorable exchanges. No historic zingers. No gotchas. The much-anticipated first face-off between Barack Obama and John McCain resolved little. Neither candidate strayed from their usual briefing books. The talking points were recycled. McCain blasted Obama for being a rookie in the ways of national security. Obama questioned McCain's judgment, notably his initial support for the Iraq war.
They both played it safe. Especially when it came to the hot topic of the night: the $700 billion bailout plan for Wall Street. It was no surprise that moderator Jim Lehrer would lead off with the issue, even though the focus of this debate was supposed to be foreign policy. And in his first question, Lehrer asked each candidate to state where he stands on the "financial recovery plan." Neither would get specific. Obama cited the need to move "swiftly" and "wisely." He called for effective oversight of the plan, taxpayer protections, and guarantees the money spent would not reach the pockets of CEOs. He pointed to the current meltdown as evidence of the failure of economic policies supported these past eight years by George W. Bush and McCain. It was standard fare.
McCain noted he was heartened by the bipartisan negotiations under way in Washington. He, too, cited the need for accountability. He mentioned the possibility of adding a provision to the package that would allow the federal government to offer loans to troubled institutions rather than buy their bad paper. Neither one, though, fully endorsed the plan--or raised any objections. Asked if he would vote for it, McCain said, "I hope so." It was a strong signal he would not be mounting any from-the-right populist crusade against the proposal.
But each candidate exploited the bailout queries. Obama tried to tie McCain to Bushonomics. McCain hailed his own efforts to curtail pork-barrel spending on Capitol Hill. Obama slapped him for focusing on $18 billion in earmarks while supporting $300 billion in tax breaks for corporations and wealthy individuals. McCain accused Obama of being a tax-hiker. Obama countered--correctly--that his tax plan provides far more relief for taxpayers making less than $250,000 a year than does McCain's proposal.
It was as if they were eager to talk about any economic issue other than the details of a gargantuan bailout that may or may not work and that may or may not be popular come Election Day.
As Capitol Hill negotiations on the Wall Street bailout proceeded on Friday afternoon, Representative Brad Sherman, a Democrat who has questioned the under-construction plan, sent out this brief message to his fellow House Democrats:
Skeptical about the Administration's $700 Billion Bailout Plan?
Dear Democratic Colleague:
Please come to a meeting of the Skeptics Caucus to discuss President Bush's $700 billion bailout bill. One staffer may attend with you.
The main story today about the bailout is that House Republicans are raising objections to the proposal and blocking a deal. But there are House Democrats worried that the deal-which would let the federal government buy up $700 billion of bad paper from Big Finance firms-- is moving too fast and is too problematic. How many? Let's see who shows.
"We must meet as Americans, not as Democrats or Republicans, and we must meet until this crisis is resolved," John McCain said on Wednesday, explaining his decision to suspend his campaign and not participate in the first presidential debate. A McCain aide told Reuters, "If the package is reached and the country is saved, there will be a debate. But if there's no deal, how can you get on a plane...for a debate?"
On Friday morning, McCain's campaign released this statement:
He is optimistic that there has been significant progress toward a bipartisan agreement now that there is a framework for all parties to be represented in negotiations, including Representative Blunt as a designated negotiator for House Republicans. The McCain campaign is resuming all activities and the Senator will travel to the debate this afternoon.
Note the adjustment in standards. First, the McCain camp said deal or no debate. Two days later, the position was, negotiations are under way so let's debate. Was this change an act of decisive leadership or a necessary political flip-flop? Maybe Jim Lehrer, the moderator of Friday night's debate, can ask him that.
Have two lobbyists who work for John McCain's campaign—one as national finance co-chairman, the other as co-chairman of the campaign's Sportsmen for McCain committee—violated the campaign's conflict of interest policy?
In May, when the campaign was being hit by one news story after another about lobbyists working on its staff, campaign manager Rick Davis (who is now on leave from his own influential lobbying firm, Davis Manafort, and under fire for his past connections to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae) issued conflict rules that banned any active lobbyist or foreign agent from being a paid employee of the campaign. Lobbyists and foreign agents, though, could work for the campaign as part-time volunteers, as long as they did not participate in policy-making regarding the matters on which they lobby. Another provision declared that "no person with a McCain Campaign title or position may participate in a 527 [campaign committee] or other independent entity that makes public communications that support or oppose any presidential candidate."
That rule that may cause trouble for the campaign and two of its prominent supporters, Wayne Berman and James Jay Baker, who are lobbyists for the National Rifle Association, for the NRA recently began airing harsh attack-ads against Barack Obama.
A Democratic pushback to the $700 billion Wall Street bailout plan proposed by the Bush administration is underway. At a Senate banking committee hearing on Monday morning, Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat and self-described "dirt farmer" from Montana, asked Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke why members of Congress only had one week to determine whether to spend $700 billion or watch the financial system "go down the pipes?" In other words, why the rush? Bernanke said the bailout was necessary to prevent a shutdown in credit that would lead to more unemployment, more foreclosures, and an economic contraction. "Lenders have to be able to lend," Paulson remarked.
But there are a lot of details in the plan to review and consider. And while the hearing was going on, over on the House side, a group of progressive- and populist-minded Democrats were trying to start a quasi-rebellion. On Monday afternoon, Representative Brad Sherman of California, who serves on the financial services committee, convened a meeting with eight other Democrats, and the group on Tuesday morning released a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi questioning whether the Paulson plan has to be approved by week's end and demanding at least eleven major changes in the proposal.