In Campaign Ad, McCain Triangulates the Environment
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
In a new campaign advertisement (above), Senator John McCain focuses on global warming, framing his position as a pragmatic "middle way" approach between the two extremes of denying there is a problem and resorting to heavy taxation and regulation. The ad even ends by offering up the complementary frame that global warming is in fact a national security problem. (Also notably, the ad refers to and uses imagery of more intense hurricanes, a "pandora's box" framing that has led to claims of alarmism directed at advocates such as Al Gore.)
While McCain's commitment to climate change policy is welcome, the advertisement's false balancing of climate change denial against the type of tough measures we need to solve the problem is deceptive and self-serving. That's also the lesson from a front page lead story today at the Washington Post by Juliet Eilperin.
As she writes:
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. The senator from Arizona has been resolute in his quest to impose a federal limit on greenhouse gas emissions, even when it means challenging his own party. But he has also cast votes against tightening fuel-efficiency standards and resisted requiring public utilities to offer a specific amount of electricity from renewable sources. He has worked to protect public lands in his home state, winning a 2001 award from the National Parks Conservation Association for helping give the National Park Service some say over air tours around the Grand Canyon, work that prompts former interior secretary and Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt to call him "a great friend of the canyon." But he has also pushed to set aside Endangered Species Act protections when they conflict with other priorities, such as the construction of a University of Arizona observatory on Mount Graham.
Doug Holtz-Eakin, McCain's senior policy adviser, said the senator does not always please "environmental groups who are single-issue, litmus test" organizations. Instead, he said, McCain seeks to weigh the costs and benefits of each environmental issue.
"Look, he always balances what are the environmental implications of these enterprises and what are the economic benefits that could come from them," Holtz-Eakin said. "That is, in general, an approach which may be harder to read than a flat ideological X or Y, but it's how he reads these things, it's how he evaluates these kinds of decisions."
As a result, McCain scores significantly lower than his Democratic rivals for the presidency, Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), in interest groups' studies of his environmental voting record. McCain's lifetime League of Conservation Voters score is 24 percent, compared with 86 for Obama and 86 for Clinton; Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund's conservation report card gave him 38 percent in the 108th Congress and 40 in the 109th. (McCain has missed every major environmental vote this Congress, giving him a zero rating.)
When Karpinski [head of the League of Conservation Voters] tells audiences about McCain's environmental scorecard rating, he said, "jaws drop. . . . I tell them, 'He's not as green as you think he is.' "
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