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Postman on Politics

Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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May 14, 2008 11:41 AM

McCain's straight talk. Really

Posted by David Postman

There was a moment in John McCain’s panel discussion yesterday that sounded a bit like a commercial message, or some clever product placement. McCain was responding to something that REI CEO Sally Jewell had said about the need for solar power tax incentives.

McCain said he was wary of subsidies, and injected this parenthetical: “I have to give you straight talk.”

It sounded to me like, “I have to give you Straight Talk™, now less filling and even straighter and talkier. Available only from John McCain. Past results not a predictor of future performance. Ask your doctor if Straight Talk™ is right for you. Do not operate heavy machinery after a full dose of Straight Talk.™, "

But it was straight talk. And McCain’s campaign stop at a remote watershed was remarkable for something that should not be remarkable in politics. It was not pre-programmed; it was not a panel of sycophants carefully vetted to avoid dissension; and no one asked any question along the line of, “Senator, when did you first decide to be an undying champion of the environment?”

You can watch McCain's event tonight at 8:30 on TVW.

McCain invited people to participate who could not be assured of agreeing with him. Jewell and fellow panelist Bruce Williams, chairman and CEO of HomeStreet Bank and vice chairman of the Cascade Land Conservancy, have a history of supporting primarily Democratic political candidates.

And as unusual as McCain’s invitation was, it’s worth noting that Jewell and Williams accepted and weren’t kept away by some fear that their participation would help the candidacy of a guy I bet they disagree with more than they agree with.

Williams said via e-mail today:

Most Americans, and I am one of them, are more concerned with actually solving problems rather than letting politics get in the way. As a region and as a country, we deal with issues better when we address them with the best thinking from different perspectives. That includes gathering the best ideas across party lines. In the case of environmental issues, it also includes the perspectives of environmentalists, business, government officials and others.

My understanding was that this panel was intended to bring together different perspectives on environmental issues important in Washington state. Whether one supports John McCain's candidacy or not, it is a good thing to have discussions like this and a good thing for him, as a Presidential candidate, to hear those perspectives.

Jewell is traveling today and couldn't be reached. But REI spokeswoman Bethany Nielson told me:

The environment and outdoors are not only important to Sally, but to the company as well. So she’s excited anytime she can talk to any presidential candidate.

I don’t understand why more candidates don’t take this approach. Certainly there is more to be gained than lost in showing a politician being able to handle even a bit of the gentlest dissension. (Unless, of course, the candidate is unable to handle it.)

Danny Westneat was at the panel discussion, too. He said he became “faint with bliss” when he heard McCain talk about the importance of science.

"Funding pure research and development is a role for the federal government," he said. Imagine that. A Republican who believes in science. That it ought to be nourished, not censored at the behest of religious- or corporate-interest groups, as it has these past seven years.

Forget for a moment the picture in your head of Danny “faint with bliss.” McCain went as far to say that the federal government should do scientific research itself, and not always wait for corporate America to act.

In expressing to Jewell his doubts about solar power incentives, McCain suggested that a better use of taxpayer money would be to have the government working to develop battery technology for electric cars. He said the government should find a way to build a battery that could power a car for 100 miles and could then be recharged quickly.

“I think there is a role for government,” he said. But, he added, “Once you develop it, you hand it over to private enterprise.”

On a personal aside, I’ve been hearing about the better batteries to come for 35 years. I learned to drive in an electric car my father built in our backyard. It was a converted Sunbeam Imp -- a British compact car -- and everything behind the front seats was filled was heavy, high-maintenance, lead-acid batteries.

I can remember conversations among my father and some of his fellow electric car guys about the need for lighter batteries with longer life, less maintenance and quicker recharging time. I’m sure it’s better today than in the 1970s. But still we wait for something that would make all-electric cars more practical.

I was once pulled over by a cop because I was going too slow in the electric Imp. It was uphill, near the end of the batteries’ life, and even though I had the switch to the floor. I couldn’t quite keep up with traffic. Oh, how I had a need for speed.

Today I could buy an electric car that goes 0-60 in 3.9 seconds. It’d cost me about what my house cost, though.

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