McCain puts one over the outside corner

McCain gave a big climate speech at a wind turbine company in Oregon today. I’m writing this as the Sox drop the third out of four to the Twins, and I’m thinking, dammit, I deserve a simple world in which I can have clear binary opinions. Boston should win all the time, McCain should be wrong about everything and say so, America is good, everyone else is bad except maybe Canada…that sort of thing.

No such luck. I know, God is in the details, some of what he said was vague and weaselable, he got price and cost (of nuclear reactors) mixed up, cap-and-trade (the banner he raised) is not as good as a carbon charge, maybe he doesn’t really mean it, quibble quibble yada yada: this was an admirable speech. He came out flatfootedly for a lot more nuclear power, he didn’t suck up to the corn lobby or ag interests, and he said the issue is urgent. He admitted it wasn’t fair for China and India to have missed a century of getting rich burning fossil fuels but that was tough, and they have to step up.

I would have awarded him a K if he had said right out that decarbonizing the world will be expensive and that no-one will get out of it without paying some dues. But this kind of discourse is a very good development. Obama will not be able to foul off challenges like this and wait for a walk: he needs to swing at it from his heels, which means being even straighter and more honest and getting his policies even better aligned with the task. It’s time for him to cut his home-state corn and coal people loose and get ahead of McCain on this really big issue. I’m letting myself dream, tentatively, about a campaign that treats us like grownups…

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.