Present, But Unaccounted For

One of the greatest political acts of principle I’ve ever seen happened in 1996. Bob Dole, who was challenging President Clinton for the Oval Office, resigned his Senate seat. Dole decided that he simply couldn’t both run for president and perform his Senate duties, and decided that the people of Kansas deserved a full-time Senator.

I was reminded of that in 2004, when John Kerry’s already dismal attendance record in the Senate got even worse. I worried that when he did get back to DC, he’d have to be shown around and reminded just where everything was.

This year, with three of the people on the national ticket sitting senators and the fourth a sitting governor, I wondered if any of them would follow Dole’s example and give up their very safe seats in order to give their constituents a chance to have the representation to which they are entitled. And I promptly dismissed it.

Now, however, we have a bit of that unfolding. WIth the current fiscal crisis going on, we have a very important debate going on in Congress about a possible bailout bill. This could be the most important thing Congress has faced in at least a few years, and it is precisely the sort of thing that we elect our elected officials (and pay them) to deal with.

Well, John McCain has announced that he puts more weight in the job he currently holds, the job for which he is currently being paid to perform, and will suspend his campaign (even skipping the first scheduled debate, if necessary) while he attends to his senatorial duties.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama will go to the debate, whether or not McCain shows up.

I’m not going to condemn Obama for his decision, though.

We all must play to our strengths. John McCain is running on his experience and leadership and willingness to reach across the aisle towards bipartisan solutions. As such, the best place for him right now is in Congress, working to get a plan passed.

Obama, on the other hand, is a consummate campaigner.

As a legislator, Obama is decidedly lackluster. If he, too, were to return to DC, I think we all know what would happen. Obama would make a big speech filled with generalities about how something must be done. He’d disappear when the real work was being achieved behind closed doors. He’d show up at the end and try to put his name on the compromise. And then, when it came to a vote, he’d vote “present.”

Quite frankly, we don’t need that right now. Let the guy stay out on the campaign trail, where he won’t interfere with the folks doing real work.

As far as him doing the job to which he was elected, while I can give some credence to that argument, I find myself saying to the people of Illinois: “Look, you knew when you elected him in 2004 that he was going to just use the job as a stepping stone to the presidency. He knew he would maybe give you a year or two of attention, then start campaigning full-time. If you believed his statements to the contrary, then you were fools and should have known better.”

So let Obama have the campaign trail to himself, have his debate to an empty chair. Let him show that he puts far more stock in getting the new job than actually performing the one he already has, the one he took an oath to perform. It’s the least harmful thing he can do.

And that is probably the greatest service he will ever perform for his nation.

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