Thursday, October 02, 2008

Watch what you insinuate, John

It’s bad enough the presidential candidates exploit their families, friends and supporters in the lunge for votes. Now they’re going after one of our own. On Tuesday, John McCain threw the venerable Sonic chain under a bus so he could sound wise and statesman-like.

“If we do nothing, many businesses will fail,” McCain said in a mass e-mail to supporters after the House of Representatives rejected the $700-billion bailout package. He then cited Sonic’s problem in securing capital from a usual source, GE Capital. His implication was clear: The corporation could become a casualty of the financial mess. That’s at best an overstatement, and at worst a calculated misrepresentation of the franchisor’s stability, made either way for political gain.

In covering companies with financial problems—something Nation’s Restaurant News is doing with increasing frequency these days—we’re painstakingly careful not to suggest that a concern could be going under, unless of course it’s actually filed for bankruptcy. At the hint of a business failing, suppliers might deny credit, loans could be called, prospective franchisees could pass on a contract, landlords could choose another tenant, and new hires might decide to work elsewhere. It’s the business equivalent of declaring someone a criminal because suspicions have been raised.

McCain apparently doesn’t share that compunction. He went ahead and affiliated Sonic with catastrophe, when the facts don’t warrant that assertion. Ironically, Sonic CEO Cliff Hudson spent part of the next day joining with other business leaders from the chain’s home state of Oklahoma to lobby for the bailout package, the very intention of McCain’s e-mail blast. There was no need for the senator to raise the possibility of failure to get his point across. He could have merely cited the importance of the package to Sonic, and left it at that.

Instead, he demonstrated the sort of self-serving, exploitative politicking you don’t want to see in a leader who needs to inspire.

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