It is probably unfair to say that John McCain’s decision to steer the presidential race off the campaign trail and into the White House jinxed the deal to bail out the nation’s troubled economy.

Then again…

The much-heralded meeting between President Bush, the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees and congressional leaders– which came together after McCain’s Wednesday announcement that he was suspending campaigning until a deal was done–did not produce anything in the way of progress.

While House Banking Committee chairman Barney Frank and Senate Banking Committee chair Chris Dodd had suggested earlier Thursday that an agreement had been reached, the ranking Republican on the Senate committee, Alabama’s Richard Shelby, said there was “no deal.”

The big area of disagreement on whether to go ahead with some variation of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s $700 billion scheme appears to involve the issue of “executive compensation” – i.e., whether the Wall Street executives whose greed created the current mess will pocket some substantial portion of the bailout money.

The fact that the presence of Obama and McCain did nothing to advance the congressional negotiations with regard to the deal–and may actually have screwed them up–simply confirms Frank’s astute assessment that McCain’s decision to add the presidential candidates to the mix was a “distraction.”

Of course, that’s not the only distraction.

McCain’s Wednesday announcement that he would suspend campaigning and, apparently, skip Friday night’s presidential debate in Oxford, Mississippi, unless there was an agreement on the bailout, means that what happens–or does not happen–in Washington now becomes a distraction from the campaign.

How much remains to be seen.

But one thing is certain: Whether McCain goes to Oxford or not, Obama will be there.

Indeed, the Democrat suggests, he’s open to turning what would have been a debate into a town hall meeting on the economy.

Not a bad idea, actually. And probably more productive than today’s charade of a meeting at the White House.