I have watched John McCain shoot craps for hours. He shakes the dice in his left hand, blows gently into his fist and then, with a somewhat awkward loft both his arms were broken when he ejected from his A-4 Skyhawk over Hanoi in 1967 he sends the cubes tumbling down the table.
Craps is his favorite casino game, and he understands that it is high risk, but he believes you can win if you place your bets correctly. "All you need," he says, "is a little luck."
John McCain is now shooting craps with his presidential campaign. It is high risk. But all he needs is a little luck to pull off his current gamble.
McCain has suspended his campaign to work on a solution for the nation's financial meltdown, and he has threatened to pull out of the first presidential debate scheduled for Friday unless Congress takes action by then.
McCain has been attacked from all sides for doing this, but it isn't as dumb or as desperate as it looks.
McCain's campaign has not exactly been a well-oiled machine lately, and a suspension might help. McCain essentially suspended the first day of the Republican National Convention because of Hurricane Gustav, and while some thought that was a dumb overreaction, it actually gave him a perfect excuse to cancel appearances by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
Besides, McCain has never been known for excessive caution. At the beginning of his 2000 presidential run, he would talk about his early days as a Navy jet jockey, when he and his buddies would just take off without bothering with all the safety procedures.
McCain said his motto in those days was: "Kick the tires and light the fires. To hell with the checklist. Anybody can be slow."
Thursday, McCain invoked his military days again, though in a different fashion. "I'm an old Navy pilot, and I know when a crisis calls for all hands on deck," he said. "That's the situation in Washington at this very hour, when the whole future of the American economy is in danger. I cannot carry on a campaign as though this dangerous situation had not occurred, or as though a solution were at hand."
Here is the upside in McCain's gamble: Congress reaches a solution before Friday night, McCain takes credit for jawboning the lawmakers into doing it, and then he flies down to the debate looking like a man of action willing to make bold moves.
Here is the downside: Congress fails to act in time, McCain gets to blame Congress for letting the people down, he misses the debate, and Obama gets to stand on a stage without him.
Is any of that so terrible?
Yes, McCain would be blamed for being impetuous, and he does do impetuous things. (Wanting to fire Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Chris Cox and possibly replace him with Andrew Cuomo ranks right up there.)
But McCain as an action figure is not a bad image. At least he is doing something, while our president doesn't seem to be doing much of anything.
Yes, Bush was roused from his slumbers long enough to address the nation from the East Room of the White House Wednesday night. But as a confidence-building gesture, it wasn't much.
"Our entire economy is in danger," Bush said. "The market is not functioning properly. There's been a widespread loss of confidence. And major sectors of America's financial system are at risk of shutting down."
It was like a fireside chat with somebody dumping a bucket of cold water on the fire.
The president didn't have to be a Pollyanna, but he could have left us with something to linger in our memories and give us strength.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said: "Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. …"
Bill Clinton once said: "There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America."
George Bush said Wednesday: "In the long run, Americans have good reason to be confident in our economic strength."
But, as the famous economist John Maynard Keynes once said: "In the long run, we're all dead."
So any risk McCain takes may be worth it.