Judging by the headlines, John McCain's global warming pitch in Oregon this week is having the desired effect. While CNN announced that "McCain appeals to independents with environment pitch," the Wall Street Journal declared, "McCain woos Democrats on environment." With Americans' support for President Bush and the direction of the country at record lows, John McCain is running away from his party and his president by stressing the environment, the only substantive issue on which he and George W. Bush disagree.
Last week, McCain ally Lindsey Graham (R-SC) gave a taste of things to come. The campaign's strategy, he suggested, was to use the environment as a cudgel to beat back those claiming McCain represented a third Bush term:
"I think there are a couple areas that would be different. One global climate change. John has been talking about global climate change for many years now. I think he would help lead the world to a solution there...John is his own guy. Good luck making him George Bush."
In Portland today, McCain as predicted turned to the environment and global warming to separate himself from the man he would replace. Announcing his own cap and trade regime to battle greenhouse emissions, McCain declared:
"We stand warned by serious and credible scientists across the world that time is short and the dangers are great. The most relevant question now is whether our own government is equal to the challenge."
As part of McCain's global warming choreography, his campaign also began running a new ad in Oregon today proclaiming, "It's not just a greenhouse gas issue, it's a national security issue."
So far, McCain's gambit seems to be working. While the reliably right-wing Journal concluded McCain's plans to regulate CO2 emissions "more closely resembles the stance of his Democratic rivals, Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton," CNN similarly regurgitated:
"McCain's commitment to fight global warming puts him at odds with some Republicans in Congress and with the Bush administration, which has not made climate change a top priority. McCain's stance on carbon emissions places him closer on the environmental spectrum to Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton."
More worrisome, leading environmental groups may be taking the bait. The WSJ reported that "the Sierra Club, one of the nation's most influential environmental groups, said the group might not endorse any candidate for president." (That, despite the Sierra Club's executive director Carl Pope's statement that "He's certainly better than Bush, and ... the average Republican senator" on environmental matters, but "dramatically worse than the average Republican governor.") Rodger Schlickheisen, president of the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, gave McCain mixed reviews:
"There's no question that among a lot of bad Republican votes in the Senate, he's one of the better ones. He is perhaps the most unpredictable, erratic, of those votes."
Erratic, indeed. As the Washington Post reported, McCain's record on the environment is uneven at best. He disappointed environmentalists with his December 2005 vote on drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR). McCain also parts company with his Democratic rivals not only on whether emissions credits should be auctioned, but on the expansion of nuclear power (which he supports) and the Kyoto Protocols (which he opposes). As the Washington Post summarized:
"But an examination of McCain's voting record shows an inconsistent approach to the environment: He champions some "green" causes while casting sometimes contradictory votes on others."
(As the Oregonian's Jeff Mapes is now reporting, the Obama campaign has responded, claiming McCain voted against the very legislation backed by the company hosting him today - Vestas Wind Technology - and the rest of the wind energy industry.)
Of course, this week's greening of John McCain has little to do with the natural environment and everything to do with the political environment. McCain's pronouncements on the environment, global warming and greenhouse gas emissions are all part of a tightly orchestrated effort to create the facade of distance between himself and George W. Bush. With his campaign experiencing separation anxiety due to its closeness to President Bush on just about every other issue, McCain's environment road show is merely a smoke screen.