McCain's Environmental Smoke Screen

Jon Perr

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.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    Nothing McCain says should surprise anyone. Yesterday on C-Span he said of appointing justices to the Supreme Court that his criterion would be strict adherence to the Constitution. This from a senator who ignored Senator Byrd's warning to the senate in October 2002 that if they voted for giving Bush a blank check to go to war on Iraq they would be failing in their responsibilities to the Constitution. Which is what McCain did when he voted for the war.

  • Bill Jones (unverified)

    Can anyone show me the peer reviewed paper that proves CO2 causes serious warming at current levels?

    Thanks JK

  • Jeff (unverified)

    Why would McCain take such a stance? Very few Republicans even believe there is such a thing as a "Greenhouse Effect". In fact, I'd be willing to bet very few Republicans even believe in the existence of Carbon Dioxide.

  • Miles (unverified)

    I think McCain's ad on global warming is very effective. He has positioned himself right in the middle, criticizing the naysayers on one side (Hi JK!) and those in favor of "excessive" regulations that will harm our economy on the other. I think that's exactly where the majority of American voters are.

    Obama needs to have two strategies to counter this. The first, which is easy and he's already doing, is to dig up McCain votes that undermine his stated desire to "do something" about the issue. The second, which is much harder, is to convince the American people that the environmental policies he is proposing will not hurt the economy. I'm not sure he can do the latter, because many of the environmental policies advocated by eco-groups will harm the economy. Many of them argue that harming the economy is an unfortunate but necessary impact of taking the dramatic action needed to reverse global warming. So Obama needs to walk a very fine line between the average American voter and the environmental activists that he needs to keep motivated for November.

  • Jeff (unverified)

    Regarding environmental policies negatively affecting the economy, while I'm sure there are some which could be harmful (mainly some of the "over the top" ideas), overall, this idea seems to be a complete farce.

    Solar Power, for example, far from being a "drain" on the economy, will instead result in less money being tied up in oil and power corporation profits, and instead being spread out among a more diverse array of solar manufacturers, then resulting in consumers having more money available to spend throughout the economy instead of our current: 'housing > fuel > food > health insurance' economy.

  • (Show?)

    The League of Conservation Voters response to McCain's ad and speech can be found here.

    The response points out that McCain's plan is hopelessly outdated, and he's voted against the very renewable energy proposals he now purports to back.

    The suggestion by Miles that the public thinks environmental protection hurts the economy has been disproven time and time again -- more than 80% of the public rejects the suggestion when polled. In this case, there are literally millions of jobs to be created in pushing renewable energy as the response to global warming.

  • backbeat (unverified)

    Gee, that was awfully nice of Governor Ted to give McSame a nice photo of them together. WAKE UP AND QUIT ENABLING THEM, TED.

  • (Show?)

    We have to figure out both ways to redirect, rebuild, reform, reconstruct our economy, AND ways to talk about that.

    Parts of the economy will be hurt. The supposedly "greener" bottled water bottles don't change the fact that the spread of water bottled in plastic has been terrible ecologically and that we really pretty much need to get rid of it.

    But the way I just put that is hugely problematic politically.

    A really sustainable society would/will require a redefinition of standards of living & emphases in quality of life that will be vulnerable to political attact as "lower" standards of living even when they're not, and that in some cases will be lower standards of living from the point of view of psychologies trained to "more is better" consumerism -- availability of the pleasures of such consumption will be reduced.

    JK's arguments about the virtues of sprawl, paving over farmland and encouraging greater automobile use, and the alleged elitism of advocates of a different path, provide a vivid example of the potential power of such politics. Miles' point should not be taken lightly IMO.

  • James X. (unverified)

    Did anyone see that speech? Utterly boring. Met with complete silence from the audience. He was like an automaton, with three prompters in front of him, reciting the words, turning to the next prompter after each sentence, emoting nothing.

    Also, I kind of tuned out from the words he was saying after, "and the ONLY way to do this is through the free market." His emphasis.

  • (Show?)

    I wanted to attend but I was about $30 Grand short for a ticket. McCain is a slimeball of the First Order, he may say he's fighting global warming (and that should be Global Climate Change, eh?) but he will knuckle under to the folks who did pitch him thousands of dollars and say now is not the time or raise some other red herring.

  • OreO (unverified)

    Yes- WHY WAS TED THERE??? Perhaps just trying to promote renewable energy as a general cause? I really can't think of any other plausible reason. If so, how dumb to lend credence to McCains ideas! What a goof!

  • dmast (unverified)

    Global climate change is a hoax.

  • funny (unverified)

    Bill Jones, I think you may like this article.


  • naschkatzehussein (unverified)

    In light of how many Clinton supporters are saying that they will vote for McCain if she doesn't get the nomination, it was totally stupid of our Democratic governor to appear with McCain. Is this the message he is sending about his intentions? Is he just being snarky because he's pissed off that his candidate is not winning? This is excusable in us partisan ordinary voters but not so for a leader of the Democratic Party.

  • OreO (unverified)

    I totally agree. Unbelievable!

  • John F. Bradach, Sr. (unverified)

    Say it ain't so Ted.

    Secretary of Energy?

  • Miles (unverified)

    In this case, there are literally millions of jobs to be created in pushing renewable energy as the response to global warming.

    Jonathan, I would be interested in any economics papers you could link to that have demonstrated an economic benefit of increased environmental regulation. The jobs argument has always baffled me a bit, because the government can't just create millions of jobs whenever it wants to. (If so, unemployment would be a thing of the past.) If government is creating renewable energy jobs -- or incenting the private sector to do so -- that's generally going to be a redirection of economic growth, not a net gain.

    Similarly, the move towards renewable energy results in higher costs -- just like my switching to PGE wind power resulted in higher PGE bills. Still a good thing, but undeniably higher. Higher energy costs have a negative impact on economic growth, as we're seeing with the current oil shocks.

    I'm not opposed to appropriate government regulation here. I think we should be pushing renewable energy, even though we know it will result in higher costs which will filter through the overall economy. Personally, I think progressives need to be honest about that and do the true cost/benefit analysis that shows that the short- and medium-term costs are outweighed by the long-term benefits.

    So, I guess I'm not convinced by the theory that we can increase regulation AND increase economic growth. But I am open to persuasion.

  • edison (unverified)

    McCain's personal greenwashing comes as no surprise, especially as he looks to Oregon as a possible win in November. Where better to unveil his plan. Sadly, his 'maverick' facade plays well with the uninformed (and possibly some Dems who are stupid enough to support him because their own candidate didn't win the nomination). The truth is that neither a cap & trade (all 3 candidate's choice) nor a carbon tax will be enough to forestall the effects of CO2 build-up and either (if enacted) will be manipulated by industry lobbying and used to maintain the status quo corporate power structure.

    Chris Lowe has it right: "A really sustainable society would/will require a redefinition of standards of living & emphases in quality of life that will be vulnerable to political attack as "lower" standards of living even when they're not, and that in some cases will be lower standards of living from the point of view of psychologies trained to "more is better" consumerism -- availability of the pleasures of such consumption will be reduced."

    And as to the Sierra Club's suggestion that they may not endorse any candidate for the GE, that should also surprise no one; both Dems are heavily invested with so-called clean-coal and to a certain extent, nuclear.

  • Rich (unverified)

    Really, people are buying this? I heard "Dubya" preach the same message of pro-environmentalism in 2000. Republicans always pull this out of their asses to appeal to independants who care about the environment. It's total BS and anyone who believes this must be their village's idiot.

  • Dan Newth (unverified)

    Why is our Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski presenting John McCain at one of McCain'sspeaking engagements in Oregon?

  • joel dan walls (unverified)

    Steve Duin in The Oregonian on Tuesday tore Kulongoski a new one over his chaperoning of McBush.

    Maybe Teddy K. shares the opinion of his preferred presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, that she and McCain are ready on Day One, but that "you'll have to ask Senator Obama" whether he is.

  • M Jordan (unverified)

    Obama is the least green of the three candidates left. He is pro-nuke, big-time. Please, Oregon, do not get suckered in by this man. Make him explain his pro-nuke politics in Illinois and, no surprise really, his "yes" vote on Dick Cheney's energy bill. Hillary is the true green candidate and needs Oregon's vote! Check it out. Don't blindly vote for Obama!

  • Urban Planning Overlord (unverified)

    It's one thing to point out the flaws in McCain's environmental record - although two of the alleged flaws, a cap and trade system and advocacy of nuclear power, say more about the myopia of Mr. Perr and the environmental left than tbey do about McCain.

    It's another to dismiss this all as a Republican campaign trick. Mr. Perr is descending into disgraceful partisan hackery with that charge. It's the kind of thing the Obama campaign (and McCain's perhaps as well) are trying to get us beyond, because we're sick of it, whether it's from Mr. Perr on the left or David Reinhard on the right.

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