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Commentary: Gambler McCain survives a wild week

  • Story Highlights
  • Ed Rollins: President Bush gave a scary, sky-is-falling speech
  • McCain showed again that he's a big gambler and stayed in the game, he says
  • Rollins: Obama had a chance to finish off McCain in debate but didn't
  • Bailout vote and VP debate could make this another wild week, Rollins says
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By Ed Rollins
CNN Contributor
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Editor's note: Ed Rollins, who served as political director for President Reagan, is a Republican strategist who was national chairman of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's 2008 presidential campaign

Ed Rollins says last week wasn't good for the candidates, the president or Congress.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Wow, what a week!

Having watched Congressional leaders and the White House deal behind closed doors all week, I now know why the country has been giving them some of the lowest approval ratings in history.

John McCain is a big gambler, according to a lengthy story in Sunday's New York Times. And certainly, a roll of the dice is the best way to describe the last week. Congress is betting billions of our tax dollars that Wall Street -- which lost much of its own and its investors' money in bad bets -- will do better with the government's money.

Our "Swaggerer in Chief," President Bush, who has strutted from crisis to crisis with utmost arrogance for two long terms, sheepishly arrived on prime-time television to scare the daylights out of the very people he should be reassuring. I have never heard a president give a less reassuring speech.

It was definitely a "Chicken Little," the-sky-is-falling performance with no explanation of why taxpayers must mortgage their kids' futures to pay for this latest crisis to occur on his watch.

It's amazing there wasn't a run on the banks in every little town in America the next day. I guess the president felt that if "fear tactics" worked to get and keep us in Iraq, maybe they could help this raid on the Treasury to go forward without a single public hearing on the substance of the bill.

If all that wasn't enough, we had the first of three presidential debates. Most viewers called it a draw or gave a slight advantage to Obama.

Depending on your political corner, last week was either the most bizarre, high-risk seven days for John McCain, the "Gambler in Chief," or the week "Lecturer in Chief" Barack Obama couldn't finish him off.

Say what you want about McCain; he's certainly not predictable. And as he proved by threatening to cancel the debate and jumping into the legislative fray on Thursday -- where he was not welcome -- he wants to be in the action. And he is still in the action.

With five weeks to go, John McCain is alive and still fighting. The man who many times has been left for dead -- both politically and on the battlefield -- is wounded but not down.

After absorbing severe, self-inflicted damage last week, he was in Mississippi on Friday night, wobbly and ready to be taken out by Obama.

McCain proved in his opening answers to moderator Jim Lehrer that he had no clue how the government should respond to the financial crisis. He failed to articulate how he would cut his own programs in response to the crisis.

Other than vetoing $18 billion of his fellow members' pet projects called earmarks (doubtful, since more than half are defense projects) and not allowing another $3 million study of the DNA of grizzly bears (a measure McCain voted for by supporting an appropriation bill including it), he offered little guidance on what a McCain administration would do with an emptier U.S. Treasury.

Obama, on the other hand, proved once again that he can't close the sale. With polls moving all week in his direction, all he had to do was appear presidential and make his case that McCain was going to be "Bush-like" in his approach to governing.

Equally important for him is that American voters now want more than a strong commander in chief. They also want an "economist in chief."

This should have tilted the advantage to Obama. But instead of impressing on this front, Obama showed a total lack of understanding of the economic crisis. Like McCain, he failed to name which of his programs he would cut in the face of the current economic crisis.

The rest of the debate focused on the night's topic, foreign affairs, and proved that both men could pronounce the names of foreign leaders -- for the most part.

McCain doesn't want to deal with unfriendly foreign leaders without them signing an "I'll be a good boy" pledge. Obama wants to talk to them anyway, and he's definitely a better talker.

The scariest part of the debate is that both said they want to escalate and send more troops to Afghanistan.

Obama is like the smart kid in the class who talks too much: never says in a sentence what he can say in a paragraph. John McCain is like the crusty old teacher who condescendingly wants to tell the smart student, "Shut up, kid. You don't know what you're talking about."

We will know more today about whether the Wall Street bailout can get sufficient votes to pass Congress.

We will know later this week whether the gambling man's biggest bet will work when his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, debates Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden on Thursday night. Palin's prime-time interviews with CBS's Katie Couric and ABC's Charlie Gibson show that she's not ready to do prime-time interviews. But at least it's been a boost to former "SNL" star Tina Fey.

The other big events of the week were the football upsets of No. 1 USC by Oregon State and No. 4 Florida by Mississippi.

Underdogs do win. But in the presidential race, given the narrow margin in the polls, who is the underdog?

Gambler McCain is betting he is. And who wants to bet against him?

Fasten your seat belts. Everything indicates that this week could be just as crazy as last.

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

All About George W. BushJohn McCainBarack Obama

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