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Can Obama Rise to the Occasion?

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The bailout deal has fallen apart, Washington Mutual has failed and John McCain may skip tonight’s presidential debate (update: McCain now says he will attend). But hey, at least it’s Friday.

I’m not easily flustered, but all this has knocked me a little off-kilter. The phrase “largest bank failure in U.S. history” is uncomforting, even though we all knew WaMu was not long for this world. And the sudden politicization of the bailout has me concerned that we are going to end up with a Frankensteined plan that only prolongs the inevitable disaster rather than providing the necessary struts to keep the economy standing. Then, there’s McCain’s bizarre and seemingly impulsive debate maneuvers. He’s not exactly filling me with confidence in his decision making.

Trouble is, it’s not like Barack Obama is providing some kind of 21st century, post-partisan path to economic recovery. I know he’s just one senator, but his response to this crisis has seemed reserved to the point of being plodding. Other than using the events as ammunition to fire at the Bush administration, McCain and Republicans in general, I get no sense that Obama has anything to add outside of the usual “the government will save us all” rhetoric the left has excelled at since the Great Depression.

I’m no economist, but I’m going to guess that, while the Great Depression may teach us important lessons we can apply to the current crisis, our economy and workforce is radically different than what existed in the 1930s. The New Deal is not new. I’d feel much more confident in Obama if he didn’t seem like such an old-fashioned statist in his response and ideas.

McCain looks ready to go completely off the rails. This is Obama’s chance to win over independents. But he can’t just play follow-the-leader here. He has to be the leader. Maybe if tonight’s debate does occur, he can show he’s made of more than recycled parts.