Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 1, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

THE MISSING W....In the LA Times today, Noam Levey calls attention to John McCain's flip-floppy record on energy issues:

McCain's record of tackling energy policy on Capitol Hill shows little of the clear direction he says would come from a McCain White House. Instead, the Arizona senator has swerved from one position to another over the years, taking often contradictory stances on the federal government's role in energy policy.

At times he has backed measures to ease restrictions on oil drilling off the coast and in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Other times he has voted to keep them.

He has championed standards to require that automakers make vehicles more fuel-efficient, yet opposed standards to require that utilities use less fossil fuel by generating more power from renewable sources, such as wind and solar. [Etc. etc.]

It's nice to see this kind of thing in the mainstream press. But at the risk of seeming churlish, Levey's story is also a pretty good example of how McCain routinely gets the benefit of the doubt even when his chameleon-like record is being exposed to the light of day.

The unasked question here is why McCain's positions change so much. The very first person quoted on this point is McCain's own advisor, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who says his boss is just being pragmatic: "Sen. McCain is interested in getting results." On the other side, the best Levey could do is one guy who calls McCain's record "sporadic" and another who says his support for subsidies "seems to contradict his record."

That's hard hitting stuff! The rest of the story is just a dry recitation of McCain's record, written in a way that often makes it hard to figure out exactly what McCain's flip-flops are, let alone why he's changed his positions on so many things. And that's odd, because eventually stories like these always allude darkly to interest groups that need to be appeased or donors who need to be pandered to. But not this one. There's not even a hint of a suggestion that McCain's motivations might be politically based. You'd have to be a considerable sleuth to put two and two together and make the connection that McCain's policies — both the ones that have changed and the ones that haven't — virtually always favor existing energy interests.

Without motivation, these stories just don't stick. That motivation is usually front and center when the subject is John Kerry or Barack Obama, but it's missing in action when the subject is John McCain. Funny that.

Kevin Drum 11:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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Obama will be the same way. Progressives have already demonstrated deceit on energy, both sides will continue this.

Posted by: Matt on July 1, 2008 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

On the NewsHour a couple weeks ago, David Brooks said that McCain changes positions on issues he doesn't really care about, but not on issues of core principle (e.g., the surge). He contrasted this with Obama's decision to abandon public financing, which Brooks said should have been a core principle for Obama, who had staked out a career revolving around political reform. The question for me, though, is that if McCain only really cares about the military, and doesn't really care about things like taxes, energy policy, immigration, and other issues he's flip-flopped on, why is he running for president? Why doesn't he just campaign for secretary of defense?

Posted by: Bob on July 1, 2008 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

McCain was a POW. He must be REVERED!

Posted by: John McCain: More of the Same on July 1, 2008 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

McCain opposes even the meager federal investment and production tax credits for solar and wind. McCain opposes even modest renewable portfolio standards for electric utilities.

McCain proposes to lavish billions of taxpayer dollars on fake, phony "clean coal" technology and the failed nuclear power industry. McCain proposes expanded offshore oil drilling, and strip-mining the west for low-quality oil from so-called "tar sands" and "oil shale".

McCain's so-called "energy policy" is, just like the CheneyBush "energy policy", all about enriching and empowering rich and powerful corporations, and has nothing to do with providing clean, sustainable, economical energy for America. That's why he wants to undermine and destroy the solar and wind energy industries while transferring billions of dollars of public wealth to the fossil fuel and nuclear industries.

McCain gives lip service to the need to address global warming, but if someone wanted to deliberately do everything possible to make global warming worse, they could not do better than McCain's "energy policy".

A McCain presidency will be a planetary catastrophe.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on July 1, 2008 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

What it means is that McCain has no clear vision for energy policy. For the most part, McCain is reactive, not pro-active. This is useful for someone in a political party that depends on special interest money to function.

Posted by: bakho on July 1, 2008 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Senile old people can't keep their ideas straight. C'mon, imagine you are sitting there with your Depends full of crap, do you think you could remember what you said the other day about global warming? When McSlime is in the Alzheimer's wing of the local VA hospital, in like a couple of years, he will be lucky to remember which planet he is on, let alone these goldarned abstract ideas he is always being asked about...

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on July 1, 2008 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

Well, McCain does have a record. Obama doesn't. We can talk about the reasons and thinking behind McCain's efforts to promote or pass legislation on campaign finance, immigration, defense procurement, gun shows, earmarks or western Indian tribal issues, because a lot of that is on the public record (energy, not so much, because McCain hasn't been a member of the relevant committee). With Obama, speculation about motivation is really all anyone has to go on.

Obviously, the fact that McCain is a known quantity to many journalists while Obama is not -- in fact Obama tends to keep journalists at arm's length -- would tend to contribute to journalists writing about the man they think they know in a way that suggests they are not looking at the subject for the first time. Finally, McCain's military record is an advantage, there's no getting around it. This certainly can infuriate people whose life histories have more in common with Obama's than McCain's, but most Americans tend more toward admiration of conspicuous bravery than not.

There's probably another factor in this campaign as well. I can't really judge how it affects the thinking of journalists who write about McCain. Truth is, in terms of McCain's beliefs and the positions he has taken, he has gotten much more criticism in this campaign than Obama has. Obama and his primary opponents disagreed on very little of substance (also, his major primary opponents' legislative records were about as thin as his is), so criticisms of Obama in the Democratic race tended to be about things like whether he was an elitist or "understood" this or that group of voters. McCain, on the other hand, got clobbered in the GOP primaries, especially on his immigration bill but also on taxes and other issues. Most of that criticism came from very conservative fringe candidates, plus major candidates like Romney and Giuliani that the media tended to dislike. But all of it did get reported, and I suppose this might provoke some in the press to think that some criticism of McCain now is just going over ground that was covered before.

It goes without saying that partisans of each candidate will think the media is not being fair or objective unless it reports all the bad things they believe about the other candidate. This was true in the Democratic primaries and is true now. What the bulk of campaign coverage does, though, is report on what the candidates' and their supporters say about one another. Print media often does do more in-depth coverage of issues, but hardly anyone reads them.

Posted by: Zathras on July 1, 2008 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Zathras wrote: "It goes without saying that partisans of each candidate will think the media is not being fair or objective unless it reports all the bad things they believe about the other candidate."

I am not a partisan of either McCain or Obama -- I am a registered Green Party voter.

And what you say is baloney. The corporate-owned mass media -- including CNN and MSNBC -- are at this very moment busying themselves making stuff up and attributing it to "Obama surrogate" Wesley Clark, so they can use these made-up statements to bash Obama, while at the same time they are glorifying the career white-collar crook John McCain as a straight-shooting war hero, while ignoring or glossing over McCain's blatant lies and cynical pandering.

America's Ultra-Rich Ruling Class, Inc. has decided who they want in the White House, and is already deploying the full force of the mass media that they own and control to ensure that Their Main McCain becomes the next president.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on July 1, 2008 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

John McCain: More of the Same beat me to it.

You can't criticize him. He's a WAR HERO.

Or rather, you can't criticize him, he's a Republican't war hero.

You also can't mention that he shot at people from thousands of feet in the air (as opposed to Kerry, who shot them face to face); that he made a propaganda film for the enemy (as opposed to Kerry, who criticized the war in front of Congress after he got home); that he received favorable treatment because of his father's position (unlike Kerry, who volunteered for a second tour when he didn't have to).

No. John McSame got shot down, wrecked several planes, may have caused a disaster on the Forrestal. But HE's a War Hero. He'll tell you that, if you ask him. In fact, he'll tell you that even if you don't ask him.


Posted by: Cal Gal on July 1, 2008 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

I get pretty sensitive about whole the flip-flop thing. It often gets overused, like when a candidates position on a complex subject doesn't line up with either the left or right party line. Many people tend to look at every action as a simple litmus test, red/blue, and when they see some red and some blue, they charge flip-flopper. I don't know if that is happening in this case, as it does seem to me the McCain's statements don't have much day to day consistency. We do need to distinguish flip-flopping from having a complicated nuanced view of a subject however.

Posted by: bigTom on July 1, 2008 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Listen to McC's advisor, Douglas Holtz-Eakin: McC is being pragmatic. Flip flopping on an issue to target groups is pragmatic until it's devalued by exposure to flip floppery, inconstancy, hypocrisy, or some such.

Posted by: MaryCh on July 1, 2008 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

Fighter pilots tend to think not strategically, but rather totally tactically. Every situation is continuously evaluated with a view toward what is the best reaction at that point in time. The ability to quickly change directions is viewed as a strong plus.

As a politician, McCain fulfills the fight pilot stereotype. When viewed in isolation his policies are reasonable responses to particular situations, but they lack any sense of overall strategy, or even coherence. Wesley Clark couldn’t have put it better; riding a jet fighter is not a qualification to be president.

Posted by: fafner1 on July 1, 2008 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

"like when a candidates position on a complex subject doesn't line up with either the left or right party line."
How about when a candidate whose an extreme right wing ideologue who tries to hide the painful truth by constantly pretending to be a moderate? such as pretending to be pro choice when your really extremely anti choice. That wouldn't be 'pragmatic'. Thats simply dishonest.

Posted by: Aaron on July 2, 2008 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK



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