Sen. John McCain is turning his focus on the environment, and specifically global warming, today, in a campaign speech meant to increase his appeal to independent voters, the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post note.
McCain's reputation as a maverick Republican extends to his voting record on the environment, but does he deserve kudos?
He became an early champion in the Senate of a cap-and-trade bill to rein in the carbon dioxide fueling global warming. That's earned him respect among environmental advocates and an easy hook to hang his hat on. He won the early and enthusiastic endorsement of Republicans for Environmental Protection.
But his lifetime voting record, as measured by the League of Conservation Voters, reveals a senator who did not vote consistently for the measures supported by environmental groups. His lifetime score is 24%, compared with 86% for either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. In 2007, he scored a zero, out of a possible 100, primarily because he missed votes on failing measures that might have passed if he had been on the Senate floor and not out campaigning.
This year, he's championed a gas tax holiday that major economists, environmentalists and think-tank analysts have derided, in part because it will encourage more oil consumption at a time when the nation needs to find a way to reduce its dependence on oil.
And,his current stance on global warming is more tepid than that of the Democrats vying for the presidency. Both Obama and Clinton have articulated a goal of reducing greenhouse gas pollution by 80% by 2050, whereas McCain's last stated goal was 60%.
In the Post piece, Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund executive director Rodger Schlickheisen describes McCain not as a maverick who bucks the Republican party line to support the environment, but instead as erratic. LCV's executive director, Gene Karpinsky, says McCain is "not as green as you think he is." In the Journal piece, Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope called McCain "dramatically better" than most Republican senators, but "dramatically worse" than the average Republican governor on environmental issues.
"An examination of McCain's voting record shows an inconsistent approach to the environment," the Post concludes. "He champions some "green" causes while casting sometimes contradictory votes on others."
McCain calls it "common sense stewardship."
McCain wants the environment to be among the defining features of his presidential bid, in part because it sets him clearly apart from that other Republican in the Oval Office, George W. Bush, who has been roundly criticized as one of the worst presidents on environmental issues in the modern era. It's certainly true that Democrats will have trouble arguing that McCain would represent four more years of the Bush Administration an increasingly common attack when it comes to environmental issues.
Further, it's more than welcome that environmental issues are coming to the forefront of the campaign, and that a Republican is the one to put them front and center. That alone should make the next president stake out clear stands on important issues, and voters can hold him or her to account once in office.
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