A Different Shade of Green

Republican Presidential candidate John McCain has enjoyed a positive reputation among environmentalists over the years.

He’s won endorsements in his senate races in Arizona from environmental groups and is generally viewed as among the greener members of the Senate and his party by the mainstream media.

Some of this reputation is deserved, as Kate Sheppard wrote recently on The American Prospect’s Tapped blog, in a post critical of McCain.

“Don’t get me wrong, he has taken the Bush administration and the rest of the GOP establishment to task for subverting action on climate change, and he does have the better record and rhetoric on the subject than the rest of the Republican field,” she wrote.

But that doesn’t make him an environmentalist, Sheppard says.

In addition to his lifetime score of 26% on major environmental votes, she wrote, he’s voted against a renewable portfolio standard for electricity and has altered his stance on ethanol during the Republican primaries.

Most importantly, however, his approach on what has been his most significant claim to being green is years behind the times.

“The 2007 version of his Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act is weaker than most others that have been offered up, calling for a cap at 2004 levels by 2012 and gradual reductions to 30% of 2004 levels by 2050,” Sheppard writes. “Current science tells us we need 80% reductions by 2050 to avert catastrophic warming, putting McCain’s plan way behind the times.”

Other’s have been just as critical of the senator’s record.

The League of Conservation Voters, which endorsed McCain in his 2004 Senate re-election bid, has given him a rating of 0 for 2007 after he missed all 15 votes included in its annual scorecard.

“The presidential candidates’ scores all suffered from the occupational hazard of absenteeism,” the League wrote in a press release accompanying the release of the scorecard. But Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama “both made a point of being on hand for the key vote that would have allowed a version of the energy bill to move forward that included a provision to repeal billions of dollars in tax breaks for big oil and put that money toward clean energy programs.”

McCain, on the other hand, failed to cast a single important environmental vote, including missing “the key vote on repealing tax giveaways to big oil—a measure that failed by only one vote.”

McCain also failed to answer a California League of Conservation Voters survey, which included a question on the state’s emissions plan. That plan is in limbo, with the state waiting for a waiver from the federal Environmental Protection Agency that not only would free California to put its emissions plan into action, but would free about a dozen other states to do so, as well. The Bush-run agency has so far refused to issue the waiver.

McCain endorsed the plan during the California Republican debate, but focused his argument on federalist grounds and not solely on its environmental impact. This plays into longstanding Republican dogma and allows him also to endorse environmental disasters like Louisiana’s right to drill off its coast.

So far, the mainstream media has been slow to move away from its portrayal of McCain as a maverick Republican willing to break with Republican orthodoxy, which could effectively neutralize the environment as an issue in November.

This raises a larger question of narrative and the roles in which the press cast candidates. It is not the media’s responsibility to pigeonhole those running, but to explode the myths the candidates use to sell themselves, to force them to do more than use vague words like “maverick,” “change” and “experience.”

John McCain may indeed be a maverick, but within what context? And does that make him an environmentalist? I know how I’d answer these questions.

Hank Kalet is a poet and managing editor of the South Brunswick Post and The Cranbury Press in New Jersey. Email His blog, Channel Surfing, can be found at

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2008

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