John McCain: Eco Warrior

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The Nation

John McCain: Eco Warrior

John Nichols

Yikes, it's really true. John McCain is running for president as a tree-hugging liberal.

No, not an all-the-time environmentalist -- rather, as a swing-state-savvy, targeted-message-peddling, hoping-to-pick-up-the-votes-of-lifestyle-liberals-who-want-to-address-climate-change-on-the-cheap murky-shade-of-green Republican.

So, today, in the battleground state of Oregon, where a reverence for the outdoors requires that Republican contenders greenwash their appeals, McCain's campaign will begin airing a new television commercial that essentially says: "Look, I'm not like George Bush and Dick Cheney. I don't live in la-la land when it comes to global warming. I actually believe in something I like to call 'science.'"

The senator -- who broke a little bit with Bush and Cheney on environmental issues, but who never really lined up with the serious Republican environmentalists who were isolated by the administration and burn-the-planet GOP leaders like Tom DeLay -- is reinforcing the message with a major campaign swing through the northwest, where he hopes to put the sometimes swinging states of Oregon and Washington in play by presenting himself as John McCain: Eco-Warrior.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee swept into Portlandon Monday to deliver a major address outlining his plan to "re-establish America's environmental leadership in the world." Here's a hint about how he'll do it: The McCain campaign says the candidates wants to "mobilize market forces."

That may sound good, but as Gene Karpinski, the president of the bipartisan League of Conservation Voters, says, "To his credit, Senator McCain wants to do something serious about global warming, but his proposal falls far short of what the science says we need to do today. He has not substantively improved his plan over the bill he introduced years ago -- legislation that the science now shows is out of date."

Of particular concern is McCain's determination to mobilize the wrong market forces. "[It] is troubling that he continues to support taxpayer subsidies for a mature industry like nuclear which has yet to resolve its waste disposal problem," says Karpinski. "It would be far more cost-effective to invest in renewable energy like the wind energy plant he is visiting today. Better still would be a call for a renewable electricity standard, something he has voted against time and time again."

On Tuesday, McCain will be in Seattle, where his campaign says the candidate will "solicit the views of environmentalists, conservationists and the business community on the most effective strategies for meeting this challenge."

Don't be fooled. The senator's not listening. He's campaigning, as McCain's greenwashing ad confirms. The script opens with an announcer acknowledging that:

Our environment in peril,

Oil and food prices out of control,

Climate change wreaks havoc with deadly weather.

One extreme thinks high taxes and crippling regulation is the solution.

Another denies the problem even exists. There's a better way.

Then, McCain does his best to deliver the I'm-no-Bush line that is central to his appeal to voters who think of the environment as something more than a place to search for oil:

I believe that climate change is real.

It's not just a greenhouse gas issue.

It's a national security issue. We have an obligation to future generations to take action and fix it.

I'm John McCain and I approve this message.

Of course, as perhaps befits the oldest-ever serious contender for the presidency, McCain has embraced an outdated dichotomy: the suggestion that the climate-change choice is between "One extreme (that) thinks high taxes and crippling regulation is the solution" and "Another (that) denies the problem even exists."

In fact, there are smart green solutions that are good for responsible businesses, consumers and taxpayers. McCain could learn about them by studying what European conservatives and even a few American Republicans, like California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, have been saying -- and doing -- for years.

But, as McCain's ad establishes, he's not really serious about climate change. What he's serious about is neutralizing the environment as an issue in a presidential campaign season that will see millions of American voters -- including a great many wavering Republicans -- treat climate-change as an exceptionally serious election issue.

John Nichols is a co-founder of Free Press and the co-author with Robert W. McChesney of TRAGEDY & FARCE: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy — The New Press.

© 2008 The Nation

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