Because most of Washington’s television needs are served by local outlets and Washington is not a battleground for the presidential candidates – all that action’s over in Virginia – we don’t see as many of the presidential ads that many of you have endured. So it struck us as odd to read the following from the invaluable Factcheck.org about a new energy-focused ad from the McCain campaign:
Yet the imagery in the ad of solar technology and windmills might lead viewers to draw some false conclusions about McCain's energy policy. McCain has been less than enthusiastic about the development of wind and solar energy. The Politico points out that McCain's favored source of alternative energy, nuclear reactors, did not make the cut for visuals – there are no shots of a cooling tower in the ad.
Here’s the ad in question:
And here’s an earlier ad in which does include nuclear in its litany, though a bit separate from its renewable cousins:
We’re not sure McCain can really downplay his interest in nuclear energy – and granted, a 30-second spot is not the place to expect anything resembling even a complete thought – so we’re inclined to give the candidate a pass on this one.
We also know that cooling stacks, as used in the older ad, still carry, however unfairly, a somewhat sinister charge due to the iconography they picked up years ago. By contrast, the dragonfly windmill in both ads is probably the closest to an aesthetically pleasing object the energy industries has ever devised. So, okay.
McCain’s message to the wind and solar folks has been fairly consistent, though it could be perceived as marking him as less than a best friend:
I'm not one who believes that we need to subsidize things. The wind industry is doing fine, the solar industry is doing fine. In the '70s, we gave too many subsidies and too much help, and we had substandard products sold to the American people, which then made them disenchanted with solar for a long time.
McCain has not quite squared the circle on the pluses and minuses of subsidies. Moving industry in the direction you want it to go often involves subsidies simply because, with many public policy ideas, there is no immediately profitable way to go forward. If the government doesn’t splash out some cash, industry can become quite mulish about moving in a desired direction. Since the U.S. doesn’t have a controlled economy, subsidies become a useful tool.
We’re not sure we agree with the notion that McCain is unenthusiastic about wind and solar, as the writer above says, because the argument is that McCain is only interested in what he would have the government subsidize. That needn’t be true.
But McCain may be painting himself into two corners simultaneously. He wants to put forward the winning idea that government spending is mostly wasteful but still has to “waste” some money to buy America a measure of energy independence. Maintaining a consistent governing philosophy is tough under any circumstances, but McCain’s mix of ideas about energy are starting to suffer unwelcome press coverage – the whole piece linked here is very critical of McCain’s energy focused ads.
All things considered, we’re not sure that the wind and solar energy folks are delighted to see McCain embrace them for purposes of advertising – though they are likely fully delighted that windmills and solar panels are being shown in a completely positive way.
As for the cooling towers – well, we’ll keep ours eyes open. We expect Barack Obama to be completely into those dragonflies, though his embrace of nuclear is, in the best Democratic manner, more “nuanced'” than McCain’s if not quite so central to his policy.