BETTER TO REMAIN SILENT AND BE THOUGHT A FOOL…. Amanda catches this interesting tidbit from a Washington Post report on Thursday’s meeting at the White House between the president and top members of Congress. We talked yesterday about John McCain’s reluctance to step up and take the lead at the meeting — indeed, he was reportedly reluctant to contribute anything of substance at all — but this piece adds some remarkable details.

Bush turned to McCain, who joked, “The longer I am around here, the more I respect seniority.” McCain then turned to Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to speak first.

Boehner was blunt. The plan Paulson laid out would not win the support of the vast majority of House Republicans. It had been improved on the edges, with an oversight board and caps on the compensation of participating executives. But it had to be changed at the core. He did not mention the insurance alternative, but Democrats did. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, pressed Boehner hard, asking him if he really intended to scrap the deal and start again.

No, Boehner replied, he just wanted his members to have a voice. Obama then jumped in to turn the question on his rival: “What do you think of the [insurance] plan, John?” he asked repeatedly. McCain did not answer.

It seems to me there are two possible explanations for McCain’s silence. One possibility is that this was an extension of what we saw last night — he believes his rivals are beneath him, and he has nothing but contempt for those who question him, so he refused to engage in a policy discussion.

The other is that McCain had no idea what the grown-ups were talking about, didn’t understand what the insurance alternative was, and knew he’d humiliate himself he tried to engage in a substantive dialog with a room full of people who knew vastly more than he did. As recently as Tuesday, he hadn’t even read Paulson’s three-page proposal, and within hours of the White House meeting, McCain was in Boehner’s office, unfamiliar with the details of the House Republican proposal, so this could be part of a pattern.

So, McCain refused to talk at the White House meeting because he has contempt for his colleagues or because he’s spectacularly ignorant.

I suppose it could be both.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.