Politics & Policy

Mandate McCain

Detroit's in the red; McCain mandates green.

Detroit — Living up to his reputation as the anti-pander candidate, John McCain dropped into Detroit on Thursday, and dumped all over the U.S. auto industry just a month before Michigan’s January 15 primary. In a meeting with The Detroit News editorial board, the GOP field’s greenest candidate lectured Detroit’s Big Three on what they should build, championed new federal fuel mileage mandates that will severely tax U.S. automakers at a time that they are struggling to regain profitability, and even bragged about his family driving Toyotas.

“I think they (Detroit automakers) can adjust to the new mandate,” he said of the 35 mpg standard which the industry estimates will cost them $85 billion to comply. “And frankly, I think it’s overdue.”

Whether advocating good policy or bad, McCain reinforced the notion that, above all else, he wants be an “honorable” public servant. It is his sense of honor — of personal duty — that girds his political decisions. For McCain, all politics is personal. Driven by a sense of duty to his U.S. soldiers, he is determined that their blood in Iraq not have been spilled in vain. Shamed by his role in the Keating Five, he was determined to resurrect his reputation as the reformer of McCain-Feingold.

And racked by guilt over U.S. consumption of goods and Mideast oil, he is determined to “do something” about global warming.

Make no mistake; John McCain is a climate-change true believer. In the heart of a Motor City that is in the cross-hairs of car-hating Washington regulators — McCain was not shy about his determination to go green.

“Greenland is the most outstanding example of what’s been happening,” says the senator who, in 2000, co-sponsored a fuel mileage mandate bill with Democrat John Kerry that was an early draft of the onerous regulations President Bush just signed into law last Wednesday. The bill strengthens so-called CAFÉ regulations that, for 30 years, have discriminated against the Big Three’s product strength — big sedans and trucks — while doing nothing to limit America’s dependence on foreign oil.

“In Detroit, I am convinced that a plug-in electric car would sell like hotcakes,” he says. So he’s determined to mandate it whether automakers see the demand or not. “The young people I meet on the campaign trail demand it,” he says. “We owe it to them to leave a world worth living in.” It’s the honorable thing.

When asked about climatologist John Christy’s recent study finding that the fuel economy mandate would have no discernable effect on global temperatures, McCain was dismissive. “With all due respect to (him),” says McCain, “we’ve got to do everything. We’ve got to do nuclear power; we’ve got to do hydrogen.”

Well, maybe not everything. McCain admits to driving a much-less-than-35 mpg Cadillac CTS (EPA mpg: 22). His wife? A similarly thirsty Lexus. But, ever aware that his honor is at stake, McCain is quick to reassure his questioners that “my daughter, Megan, drives a (hybrid) Toyota Prius, so at least one of us is trying to make a difference. And my wife and I have moved out of our house and into an apartment and we’ve equipped it with solar panels.”

Alas, he then admits to the sin of (ahem) owning a second home in northern Arizona. Perhaps, one day, Washington can save him the moral anguish and mandate only one home per family.

 – Henry Payne is a writer and editorial cartoonist for the Detroit News.

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