There are two ways to score this: politically and as a matter of civics.
Politically, I think it is shrewd, even wise. It demonstrates McCain’s willingness to make politics and partisanship a secondary concern. Obviously, some of McCain’s detractors will see it as a gimmick. But politics is all about gimmickry in a sense. Symbolic gestures, tactical positioning, overtures to constituencies: that’s what politicians do to communicate what kind of politician they are. Yes, as the guy behind, McCain has a greater interest to reset the campaign to more favorable terms. But that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong thing to do. He’s communicating that he’s the candidate that actually breaks with politics-as-usual when it’s required. After all, there was something really idiotic about having the first debate be on foreign policy when virtually every American is rightly focused on the economy.
As a matter of civics, I am at a loss to understand what the argument against this could possibly be. I didn’t much like the cancellation of the first night of the GOP convention because of the hurricane. Democracy should go on, and all that. But postponing a debate so that the world’s oldest deliberative body can tackle the most pressing domestic crisis in modern memory seems both democratic and appropriate. The debate in Congress isn’t a photo-op. It’s what Congress is for.
Update/Correction: Several readers have politely inquired about my use of the “oldest deliberative body” line.
One friend asked, “What about the British Parliament?”
My short answer: I don’t know why they call the Senate “the world’s oldest deliberative body.” I just assumed it was true unthinkingly. I regret the assumption. I await clarification about whether I should regret the error.
Update: Correction it is! The correct phrase is “world’s greatest deliberative body.” In fact while googling this, I discovered I’d already addressed this four years ago. So: it’s egg meet face for me!