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Jewish World Review Dec. 20, 2004 / 8 Teves 5765

Debra J. Saunders

Debra J. Saunders
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The real McCain? | WASHINGTON -- Why is John McCain so popular? It's a question I asked the maverick Republican senator from Arizona in his office Thursday. His answers were prickly; still, the former Vietnam POW is a compelling figure.

Global warming? I note that McCain was one of 95 senators who voted for a 1997 resolution advising the Clinton administration not to agree to a Kyoto global warming pact if it excluded developing nations such as China and India. Today McCain is a champion for legislation to reduce U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions.

"That's probably one of the least understood votes in history," said McCain, as he explained the wrongheadedness of penalizing U.S. industry while exempting large countries that could pollute with impunity. (Since Vice President Al Gore nonetheless accepted exempting developing nations, I think it is fair to say that those 95 senators voted against the Kyoto Protocol.)

I'd like to hear McCain then say that the United States should pass regulations that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in order to boost U.S. energy independence, reduce pollution and appease America's European allies who are Kyoto crazy. Instead, McCain repeats the Kyoto mantra. "Everybody knows that climate change is going on."

Everybody? "Everybody who studies it knows it." But that's not true. Many scientists reject that human-induced global warming presents certain dangers. His was a true believer's answer, not that of one who understands how complex global warming is.

McCain won't recognize that environmentalists acknowledge that even if implemented, Kyoto would not stop global warming. "Oh, of course it is. It's going to put the brakes on it," McCain argued. Not according to the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which predicts that a fully implemented Kyoto would barely change the earth's temperature.

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I question McCain's claim that his Climate Stewardship Act, co-written with Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., which would reduce some industries' emission to 2000 levels by 2010, would only cost the average U.S. household $20 annually. How can serious regulations cost so little? He responds, it "would be the first step."

Then - as if to prove that he's also willing to anger environmentalists - McCain supports using more nuclear power.

His McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation, which President Bush signed into law, was supposed to limit the amount of money fat cats could pour into the political races and discourage dirty advertising. Yet few would consider 2004 a kinder, gentler (or cheaper) presidential race than past campaigns. Rich suits who once poured big money into the parties instead poured more money than ever into the parties and independent groups — also known as 527s, after their tax-code reference — that ran nastier TV spots than any credible campaign would dare air.

McCain doesn't see it that way. "It has been overwhelmingly successful," McCain said of the legislation. "The problem is the 527s, but that's not a problem with the law. That's the problem with the Federal Elections Commission. "

The senator has been withering in his criticism of the FEC for refusing to enforce McCain-Feingold limits on 527s. Problem is, the courts have failed to make the FEC do what McCain wants it to do, and unless the courts force the FEC to change its ways, McCain-Feingold won't have changed anything — other than weakening the parties and strengthening extremist groups.

"We'll beat 'em," McCain insisted.

OK, but what if you don't? "It's a no-brainer, so we'll win in court." If the courts don't back McCain, will he still support a law that doesn't do what it's supposed to? His clipped response: "What if pigs fly?"

Speaking of pigs — the war hero is a political hero for his assaults on pork-barrel spending. In the town that balanced budgeting forgot, McCain is the rare official — worse, the rare Republican — who is outraged at the lard fests that have bloated the Bush deficit. He denounced, then voted against, the $388 billion catch-all appropriations bill signed by President Bush.

McCain wouldn't dish Bush for signing the bill. In fact, McCain argued that Bush is concerned about "out-of-control spending" and that he is better on budgeting than Democrat John Kerry, who has a "very liberal record on spending." McCain's right about Bush, but the difference is: If John McCain were president, a GOP Congress wouldn't dare send him a bill that funnels $1.8 million into berry research in Alaska or spends $150,000 on a therapeutic horseback riding program.

There's a principle involved here. That's right, a principle, smack dab in the District of Columbia.

So why do so many Democrats like John McCain? "I've had many people come up to me and say I'm a Democrat from San Francisco and I don't agree with you on many issues, but I'll support you because I think you're honest."

He is honest. Also, I think, in a world of officials who excel in keeping their heads down, right or wrong, John McCain is willing to stick his neck out for what he thinks is right.

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© 2003, Creators Syndicate