What on earth is John McCain doing?

WHAT ON EARTH IS JOHN MCCAIN DOING?…. Let me get this straight — John McCain left the campaign trail to “help” wrap up a bailout deal in response to the crisis on Wall Street. When a compromise was reached that included everything McCain said he wanted, he decided not to take “yes” for an answer, and sided with far-right House Republicans, who have their own ridiculous plan, and who’ve never liked McCain anyway.

A few phrases come to mind to describe this madness, but “country first” isn’t one of them.

There’s no shortage of angles to this, of course, but the one thing I’ve been trying to wrap my head around is what McCain is doing in D.C. in the first place. Before he arrived, negotiators were making progress. After he arrived, talks broke down. Before he arrived, McCain and his campaign indicated that the bailout was a necessary evil. After he arrived, no one seems clear on exactly what McCain wants.

There was one participant at the White House who took on the role of “the old hand at consensus building, and as the real face of bipartisan politics,” but his name was Barack Obama.

For his part, McCain “rarely came close to the Capitol suites and committee rooms where the talks were taking place.” He showed up for a meeting at the White House — which, according to the Bush gang, was McCain’s idea — but while Obama pressed Henry Paulson on policy details, McCain sat silently. At one point, McCain briefly touted the House GOP “plan,” which Bush immediately rejected. After the meeting, McCain did some interviews, and was back in one of his homes by 6 p.m.

His day of destructive grandstanding and substance-free work was complete. For McCain, who obviously couldn’t care less about the economy or the nation, it was “mission accomplished” — nothing got done, it was at least partially his fault, and there’s now a chance he can pick up the pieces of a process he helped break and pat himself on the back.

E. J. Dionne Jr. concluded, “McCain’s boisterous intervention — and particularly his grandstanding on the debate — was less a presidential act than the tactical ploy of a man worried that his chances of becoming president might be slipping away.”

You don’t say.