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Column: Oregon Has Its First Awkward McCain Meeting

This story was written by Josh Grenzsund, Oregon Daily Emerald

What do you do when that guy who nobody invited shows up to the party? This past Monday that guy was Sen. John McCain and that party was the climate change hobbyhorse - dominated by Democrats.

McCain showed up in Portland to unveil his climate initiative, just as his rivals - Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama - continued their assault on Oregon's voters. It's no mystery why Oregon is garnering so much attention from all three front-running candidates these days. Or maybe it is.

The knock-down drag-out race between Clinton and Obama has come down to Oregon's paltry 52 delegates carrying disproportionate symbolic and real political value, so we see why they are stirring up support in many of our bustling urban centers. But McCain, the "presumptive" Republican nominee, could really not care less about what Oregon's Republicans do with their primary vote.

McCain is here in Oregon not to stir up voter support, but to, as it were, "stir the turd" when it comes down to who can stand on the environmental plank in their platform come November.

Oregon's population has a reputation for taking pride in trying to hammer out a balance between economic, industrial, social and environmental needs. If you're going to say you stand for something, you'd best go to the place that embodies that concept in people's minds to make your declaration.

So, Oregon, meet Sen. McCain, rising environmental advocate, and Mr. McCain, meet Oregon, a place and collection of people who log, fish, farm, recreate, advocate and at times commit arson as part of their performance in what it means to be both socially and environmentally responsive. Regardless of what their beliefs may be, a lot of Oregonians think they own the truth, or at least one part of it, when it comes to sustainable living.

It was an awkward meeting, but one that was long overdue. In the formalities, between the lines, without asking directly, by insinuating himself, McCain is raising the question of who can not only take a stand on environmental and climate change issues, but who can "own" it.

None of us were born environmentalists. None of us have genetic codes that predispose us to giving a crap if we have clean water, healthy food and a stable place to call home. These are all concerns that develop in us as we are trained to react to our surroundings and as we learn to rationalize what may or may not be a logical and realistic connection between causes and effects.

McCain's leaf-turning performance, however, has put him into a position to rile up those activists who saw the connections between human activity and the environment some time before yesterday. To proclaim a concern for climate change so suddenly, then to present a plan that looks like a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a greenhouse gas emissions limitation and reduction plan smacks of opportunism.

So we've got a situation here where the New-Kids-on-the-Block in the climate change scene may be pulling a Milli Vanilli - peace be unto them. However, if McCain chooses to dance the populist dance, isn't that what we all want anyhow? How many times do environmental activists thrust themselves upon the mantra that it takes all of us to make a real difference and that we all have to take responsibility and change our policies and behaviors?

Well McCain, and if we are lucky, the Republican Party as a whole, will actually make the move.

When a movement gains strength and momentum because it has a rhetorical "other" against which to define itself and to demonstrate moral and ethical integrity, it feels like a defeat when that other decides to join the winning team.

If nobody in the U.S. openly proclaims that cliate change has no human caused component and we need not make any adjustments, then where could environmental activists put their energy? Well, into solutions of course.

So, Sen. McCain, you may be lipsynching to get voters in the November election, but I'm going to interpret your moves as sincere, and more importantly as a massive success of climate change activists. The "there is no climate change" boat has sunk, and I am honored and excited to welcome you and all of your supporters aboard.

You may not have my vote, but in joining a rational and sustainable approach to our environmental challenges you certainly do have my support.