Republican presidential candidate John McCain. (Courtesy of 2008 Republican National Convention and Reflections Photography)
If there was one environmental message that resounded often and loudly at the Republican National Convention it’s that drilling is the key to energy independence. Living on Earth host Steve Curwood talks with Washington correspondent Jeff Young from the convention floor in St. Paul, Minnesota, about whether presidential hopeful John McCain’s environmental views are changing and gravitating to those of his Republican base.
[NPR NEWSCAST MUSIC: Boards Of Canada “Zoetrope” from “In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country” (Warp Records 2000)]
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CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
When Arizona Senator John McCain accepted the Republican nomination in St. Paul to be president of the United States he promised to embark on the most ambitious national project in decades, bringing energy production home.
MCCAIN: My friends, we’ll build more nuclear power plants. We’ll develop clean coal technology. We’ll increase the use of wind, tide, solar and natural gas. We’ll encourage the development and use of flex fuel, hybrid and electric automobiles.
CURWOOD: And McCain says if Americans want to stop sending $700 billion every year for energy to unfriendly nations and protect the planet, they should vote Republican.
MCCAIN: Senator Obama thinks we can achieve energy independence without more drilling and without more nuclear power. But Americans know better than that.
MCCAIN: We must use all resources and develop all technologies necessary to rescue our economy from the damage caused by rising oil prices and restore the health of our planet.
YOUNG: Hi, Steve
CURWOOD: So Jeff, you were in St. Paul, and there John McCain, the self-styled maverick, who likes to remind voters that he stood up to his own party’s leaders when it came to climate change, has a problem right? He needed to mend fences with the party’s base if he’s going to turn out the conservative votes, and that sets up a rather tricky dance for him. How did his feet move?
YOUNG: Well, if it was a dance, I would say that the leading partner at this point is the party’s base, not Senator McCain. One of the big questions hanging over the McCain campaign all summer has been, is McCain moving Republicans toward action on climate change or is the party pulling him the other way, toward traditional support for oil and fossil fuels?
CURWOOD: And the answer is?
YOUNG: Well, you know, we did hear Senator McCain talk about plans for clean energy, but he used the phrases oil, drilling and nuclear energy ten times. The words climate change or global warming never passed his lips, in the acceptance speech. In fact, all week only one prime time speaker here at the convention used the phrase global warming, and that speaker was Joe Lieberman, who, of course, is not a Republican. Now as you pointed out Senator McCain’s platform does include a cap and trade system to cut greenhouse gas emissions. I’ve seen nothing to indicate he’s changed his position. But what has changed, I think, is that there is now little emphasis on that, and that kind of rhetoric, I would argue, matters -- because the campaign, the convention, these are the tools that a candidate has to build a mandate for support for the platform, and I simply did not see that happening here.
CURWOOD: Now Jeff, there are a lot of stars in the Republican party who take global warming pretty seriously, people like California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. What happened to them?
YOUNG: Well they just weren’t here. They had pretty good excuses for their absences. Governor Schwarzenegger is in a budget battle back in the state capitol. Florida’s governor Charlie Crist, another climate change champion in the party, he had to stay home to prepare for a hurricane. Their views, as a result, were not on display here. So instead, the big moments on energy came from speakers like former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
ROMNEY: And I have one more recommendation for energy conservation: let’s keep Al Gore’s private jet on the ground.
GIULIANI: He will lead us to energy independence so we can be free of foreign oil.
GIULIANI: And he’ll do it with an all-of-the-above approach including nuclear power, and yes, offshore oil drilling.
[APPLAUSE AND CHANTING OF “DRILL, BABY, DRILL”]
GIULIANI: Drill, baby, drill? (laughs) Drill, baby, drill!
[APPLAUSE AND MORE CHANTING]
CURWOOD: So there’s a new chant, eh? Drill, baby, drill.
YOUNG: Yeah, and, in fact, that showed up the very next day on some T-shirts.
CURWOOD: But wasn’t Senator McCain opposed to offshore drilling not so long ago?
YOUNG: Oh, yeah, I mean it was just mid June that he changed his position on drilling, and that change has paid off for him politically. He seems to be in sync with a shift in public opinion. It also coincides with a pretty significant up-tick in his fundraising. McCain is now by far the largest recipient of campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry -- more than $1.5 million so far, and that’s more than three times what Obama has taken from the industry.
CURWOOD: And I expect that that’s helped get him back in good graces with the party’s conservative base, huh?
YOUNG: Oh, definitely. You know I spent some time walking the floor here asking delegates what they think the energy priorities should be, and I definitely get the feeling that conservative party members think that McCain has moved their way.
RUTLEDGE: Drill here, drill now, pay less. My name is Hollis Rutledge from south Texas.
BURKHART: My name is June Burkhart. I’m from Willow, Alaska. We would like to see him come over and change his thoughts a little bit on opening ANWR so we can get the gas and oil reserves down to the people. He has not been in favor of that, but now that our governor is going to become vice president, there may be some changes there.
YOUNG: Oh yeah, and I think Senator McCain’s choice here of Sarah Palin really tells us a lot about his priorities. You know, he had a lot of people on the short list in consideration for vice president who had pretty strong records on addressing climate change, supporting alternative energy, and instead he went with the Alaska governor who strongly supports expanding oil and gas drilling and who, frankly, has a spotty record on climate change.
CURWOOD: Jeff, we’ll get back to you later. Let’s hear now from Governor Palin’s speech.
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