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The single-issue voter: A birder’s look at John McCain (R)

October 13, 2008
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The seemingly never ending election season is finally drawing to a close. But for those still wondering about the policies of the national candidates as they apply to birds and birders, The Drinking Bird is here for you. Every other week until November, I’ll be looking at the Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates’ bird platforms. Hold your horses, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Normally, this would go up on Thursday, but since I’m hosting I and the Bird that day (let’s have your submissions!), we’re pre-empting the politics.

Time to take on the big boys. First up, Republican nominee for President, John McCain.

First the good news. In his long career as a Congressman and Senator, John McCain has a fairly moderate environmental platform. He claims his hero is Theodore Roosevelt, which isn’t too bad as far as presidents are concerned. And I was especially impressed by his statement in a 1996 NY Times editorial on the topic of whether Republicans have abandoned their roots, commenting that government’s most important task, after national security, is to leave posterity the land in better condition than they found it. Leaving out the debatable national security bit, it’s undoubtedly a sentiment that many of us can agree with.

At this time last year, McCain’s campaign was on the ropes, and in that situation it’s easy to take the road of the principled loser. The Republican slate of presidential candidates was notable in that there was no clear choice, and at the time I suspected that McCain would eventually be seen as the least worst individual by Republican primary voters. I worried that his stance on the environment was one that may see some “refinement” should he become the presidential candidate.

Just over a year ago, I wrote this about presidential candidate John McCain:

The question remains however, whether McCain will cave on his independence on this issue, as he has on torture, if captains of industry come up to him with buckets of money to revive his fading campaign. I’d like to think no, but politics is a fickle game.

Well folks, the results are in. And it’s just as I feared. So many of McCain’s moderate, even progressive, takes on the environment have been suppressed, or even completely reversed. He previously opposed drilling for oil offshore, he’s now for it. I’ve written about how bad this would be for North Carolina, it’s easy to extrapolate these concerns nationwide. And while technically McCain still claims to oppose drilling in the Arctic Refuge, his running mate unequivocally supports it. I suspect that this disagreement is merely political, allowing McCain to continue to appeal to oil companies without having to ruin his reputation with environmentally-minded republicans. But I’m a cynic.

He used to oppose ethanol subsidies, a principled and unpopular stand, but now supports them. And, most damning, he has missed votes on extending tax credits for alternative energy no fewer than eight times in the last year. In fact, when asked about his absences last August, McCain simply lied, stating “I’ve always been for all of those and I have not missed any crucial vote.” Most recently, on Dec. 13, 2007, the Senate was considering a bill to spend $13 billion on renewable power over five years. The vote to allow the amendment to be brought to the Senate floor required 60 votes; it received 59 for, 40 against, and one senator absent. The absent Senator was McCain. Fortunately, these tax credits were included as part of the recent $700 billion economic stimulus package, and were re-upped with McCain’s, perhaps unwilling, help.

Conservation has been a similarly difficult issue for McCain. This summer, McCain famously mocked Barack Obama for talking about efficiency measures, like inflating one’s car tires, even though such measures would save more than 10 times as much oil as ending the moratorium on coastal drilling would. He is also on the record for opposing initiative to increase conservation of electric energy through household appliances.

Those issues of true importance to birders, those concerning habitat conservation and wildlife management, are largely absent on McCain’s own website and from his campaign thus far. Energy reigns supreme, but one can infer his public positions on bird topics from the his own recent Senate record and, perhaps especially, the science policy of his running mate. Such projections are not positive for birders and naturalists.

Perhaps, the last word should be left to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman:

With his choice of Sarah Palin — the Alaska governor who has advocated drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and does not believe mankind is playing any role in climate change — for vice president, John McCain has completed his makeover from the greenest Republican to run for president to just another representative of big oil.

Nuff said.

Next week: Democratic contender Barack Obama.

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One Comment
  1. October 13, 2008 8:15 pm

    One other thing about McCain – he frequently includes various wildlife research projects (such as a bear DNA study) among the earmarks he selects for mockery. I’m not sure how much it means, but it suggests that he doesn’t take wildlife conservation seriously.

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