Reporting on John McCain’s proposal for a “gas-tax” holiday this summer as a way to boost the struggling economy, laid out in a speech this morning, Michael Cooper of The New York Times notes that “some environmentalists said that the change might encourage more people to use their cars, while Mr. McCain has made combating global warming central to his campaign.”
It’s great that the Times takes note of the tension here between eliminating the gas tax on the one hand and fighting global warming on the other—something the AP completely misses in its write-up.
But has McCain really “made combating global warming central to his campaign”?
He’s certainly gone further in acknowledging the problem than did any of his GOP primary rivals, not that that’s saying much. And for much of this decade, he’s been a leader in Washington on the issue. In January 2007, he introduced a cap-and-trade bill that sought to cut greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds by 2050.
But since he started running for president last year, McCain has largely downplayed climate change. He hasn’t declared support for a tougher and more detailed bill, proposed by Senators John Warner and McCain ally Joe Lieberman. And his top domestic policy recently suggested that McCain might not even stand by his own weaker bill, telling a reporter: “He wasn’t so much committed to the bill as to an issue.”
Most important, McCain has not made global warming a rhetorical priority. Since he began his White House run, he hasn’t given a single speech that we’re aware of devoted to the issue, or released an ad that mentions it in any detail. In general, McCain has based his pitch to voters, both before and after clinching the GOP nomination, on his personal biography, his national-security experience (particularly his support for the troop surge in Iraq), and his straight-talking persona. No fair assessment could conclude that global warming, or any other environmental issue, has been “central” to McCain’s campaign.
It’s worth noting that the same is largely true of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, neither of whom have focused on the issue (though both have backed tougher legislative approaches than McCain.) But that’s no excuse for the Times getting it wrong on McCain.