Debatable tactics

Fresh from saving the American financial system by, erm, suspending his presidential campaign, John McCain parachuted into Mississippi last night just in time for the first presidential debate. Inevitably, both candidates were asked, first and foremost, to explain their plans for dealing with the banking crisis; less predictably, some of the economic band-aids they offered up could have far-reaching ramifications for the next administration’s environmental and energy policies.

Barack Obama pledged that no matter what, he’d plough ahead with his plans for American energy independence, investing billions in new clean and renewable technologies. Conservatives jumped on that as testament to the Democrat's tax-and-spend liberalism; in fact, though, it's likely that Obama would be able to pay for his clean-energy R&D by auctioning off carbon credits, probably enabling him to balance his budget even in the face of an expensive bailout.

McCain doesn’t have that luxury, since his cap-and-trade plan calls for carbon credits to be given away rather than sold off. He talked himself further into a corner last night, promising to veto every spending bill that crossed his desk and suggesting that he’d freeze government spending on anything other than defense, entitlements and aid for veterans.

Those tactics would make it hard for McCain to solve America's energy crisis. Still, it's unclear how seriously McCain intended his no-new-spending vow to be taken: he also promised to put the economy back on track by building 45 new nuclear plants, which would likely cost upwards of $300 billion and require the government to provide hefty subsidies for the nuclear industry. (It would also provide far fewer than the 700,000 new jobs McCain claimed last night; the pro-nuclear Clean and Safe Energy Coalition estimates that building McCain’s 45 plants would create 225,000 jobs, of which only 35,000 would be permanent.)

Nukes or no nukes, though, it was clear from last night’s debate that McCain intends to fund the banking bailout, and his proposed $300 billion in tax cuts for the rich, by “scrubbing” every government department for savings. That’s bad news for greens: it will always be less politically costly to cut back on environmental programs than on education, social security or defense. To make matters worse, most of the government’s environmental programs - parks, endangered species protection, the EPA, even consumer safety - have already been scrubbed half to death by Bush budget cuts. Billions of dollars of further cutbacks might be the final nail in the coffin.


McCain did the country a favor, in last night's debate. McCain's sarcasic and bellicose nature emerged, immediately. McCain's refusal to make eye-contact with Obama, or even look his way, made it easy to imagine McCain's refusing to comunicate, negotiate or compromise with foriegn leaders with whom he was not already in full agreement. I'm afraid that Sarah Palin may be a heartbeat away from replacing Dr. Strangelove.

For those too young to remember Dr. Strangelove, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, a 1964 Stanley Kubrick film.The story concerns a mentally unstable US Air Force general who orders a first strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union.