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Commentary: McCain has his priorities straight

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By Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Special to CNN
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Editor's Note: Ruben Navarrette is a nationally syndicated columnist and a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Read his column here

Ruben Navarrette Jr. says John McCain showed real leadership by trying to assist with the bailout deal.

(CNN) -- Talk about a last-minute reprieve. Tonight's presidential debate in Oxford, Mississippi was nearly a casualty of the financial crisis. It's back on schedule.

But hopefully, not back on script. Given all that took place this week, it's obvious that the format of the debate should be immediately revamped to focus not on foreign affairs and national security as planned but on the one subject every American is talking about: the economic crisis.

It would be surreal to watch Barack Obama and John McCain debate what to do in Baghdad or Kabul when the country's attention is fixed on Wall Street.

At some point, the candidates will have to make plain what they would do to fix the crisis, restore Americans' confidence and rally their respective parties in support of a common vision.

It's not enough for them to show that they understand the problem. They have to lead the way to a solution and show that they have the will, courage and strength to get us there.

Earlier this week, McCain abruptly suspended his campaign and requested that the debate be postponed until Congress finishes the heavy lifting of approving a bailout. That put Obama and McCain in a classic Mexican standoff with each trying to look presidential, while attempting to map out a course that would benefit him politically.

Some in the Obama-friendly media were quick to dismiss McCain's move as a political stunt. I don't know. It's not like launching one's candidacy in Springfield, Illinois, in the hopes of conjuring up comparisons to Abraham Lincoln, or moving one's convention speech to a football stadium to accommodate a larger crowd.

I think McCain deserves applause for having his priorities straight. For the past several days, the media and members of both parties have been scaring the daylights out of the American people by calling this the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression.

This week, President Bush warned that our current situation threatens not just the lending industry but also the entire U.S. economy.

After all the doom and gloom, pundits were then somehow surprised when McCain decided to temporarily suspend his presidential campaign and return to his day job in Congress, where he tried to work out a bailout deal with his colleagues. Well at least most of his colleagues.

Despite having decried the economic crisis in near-apocalyptic terms in an attempt to lay blame on President Bush and, by association, McCain, the junior senator from Illinois didn't feel the urgency to show up for work and try to do what he could to address it. Obama certainly has standing and more than his share of influence. This is, after all, the de-facto leader of the Democratic Party.

Unfortunately, he also looks like someone who is so focused on what he hopes will be his next job that he has lost interest in his current one.

McCain showed real leadership this week. And frankly, if we were more accustomed to seeing that sort of thing from our elected officials, we might be less cynical and better able to recognize it on the rare occasions when it surfaces. iReport.com: Are you planning to watch the debate?

The clock is running down on the Bush administration. It is almost time to hand off the baton. The financial crisis will no doubt become McCain's No. 1 agenda item if he is elected president. Or it will be Obama's No. 1 agenda item if he is elected.

This issue is as difficult as they come. I get that. It requires making sacrifices, wrestling with tough choices and telling Americans the hard and unpleasant truth -- all the things that politicians hate to do.

Too bad. The presidential candidates can't run from this issue any more than the rest of the country can. That's why both of them should have cleared their plate and gotten to work on a solution. But only one did.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

All About John McCainBarack ObamaNational Economy

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