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Distorting Obama

McCain's new Web ad misrepresents some of the Democrat's positions on energy.


McCain released a Web ad that distorts Obama’s positions on clean-energy innovation and nuclear power.

  • The ad portrays Obama as saying "no" to energy "innovation" and to "the electric car." In fact, Obama proposed a $150 billion program of research into a wide variety of clean-energy technologies last year, long before McCain proposed to award a $300 million prize for developing a commercially viable battery package capable of powering automobiles.
  • The ad also has Obama saying "no" to "clean, safe nuclear energy." In fact, Obama has said, "I have not ruled out nuclear… but only [would support it] so far as it is clean and safe."


Sen. John McCain’s campaign announced the new Web-only ad on June 25. It portrays Obama as "The Dr. No of energy security." We find that some of the claims in the ad go too far and misrepresent some of Obama’s positions.

[TET ] 

McCain Web Ad: "Dr. No"

On Screen: Barack Obama Is Dr. No. No To Drilling Offshore Oil.
Obama: Offshore drilling would not lower gas prices today.
On Screen: No To A Gas Tax Holiday.
Obama: I think John McCain’s proposal for a three month tax holiday is a bad idea.
On Screen: No To Innovation. No To The Electric Car.
Obama: In this campaign, John McCain is offering the same old gimmicks.
On Screen: No To Clean, Safe, Nuclear Energy.
Obama: I start off with the premise that nuclear energy is not optimal. I am not a nuclear energy proponent.
On Screen: Barack Obama Truly Is The Dr. No Of Energy Security. Paid for by John McCain 2008.[/TET]

No to Innovation?

The most glaringly inaccurate claim in the ad is that Obama opposes "innovation" in general and "the electric car" in particular. The claim is based solely on Obama’s dismissal of McCain’s proposal to award a $300 million prize for development of a battery package capable of powering plug-in hybrids or electric cars at a fraction of current costs. Obama called McCain’s approach a gimmick, but it’s not true that he opposes innovation or electric-powered cars.

In fact, Obama was criticizing McCain for not going far enough. He said in a speech in Las Vegas on June 24:

Obama: After all those years in Washington, John McCain still doesn’t get it. I commend him for his desire to accelerate the search for a battery that can power the cars of the future. I’ve been talking about this myself for the last few years. But I don’t think a $300 million prize is enough. When John F. Kennedy decided that we were going to put a man on the moon, he didn’t put a bounty out for some rocket scientist to win – he put the full resources of the United States government behind the project and called on the ingenuity and innovation of the American people.

And far from saying "no to innovation," Obama has proposed spending $150 billion over 10 years to develop a variety of new energy technologies, specifically including advanced biofuels, "clean coal" technology, and wind and solar technologies. We find no specific reference to electric-car research, but we also find no evidence that Obama is opposed to developing electric cars.

Furthermore, Obama laid out this $150 billion proposal in a speech on Oct. 8, 2007. That is more than eight months before McCain first mentioned his $300 million car-battery prize on June 23. Readers may judge for themselves which candidate is more aggressive about promoting energy innovation.

"No to Nuclear?"

The McCain ad also portrays Obama as saying "no to clean, safe, nuclear energy." That’s false. Obama has said he’s open to building new nuclear plants if they are clean and safe.

As we noted in a recent article, McCain bases his claim on a partial quote from Obama from a town hall meeting in Newton, Iowa, on Dec. 30, 2007. Obama had been asked whether he was "truly comfortable" with the safety of nuclear power.

Obama, Dec. 30, 2007: I start off with the premise that nuclear energy is not optimal. … I am not a nuclear energy proponent.

If that was all Obama said it would not make him an opponent of nuclear power, of course. It would make him "Dr. Maybe," but not "Dr. No." And In fact, Obama went on to say later in the same response:

Obama, Dec. 30, 2007: There is no perfect energy source. Everything has some problems right now. We haven’t found it yet. Now I trust in our ingenuity. … I have not ruled out nuclear as part of that [$150 billion proposed energy research] package, but only so far as it is clean and safe.

Furthermore, the energy plan Obama released in October 2007 said: "It is unlikely that we can meet our aggressive climate goals if we eliminate nuclear power from the table."

There’s no question that McCain is a much bigger advocate of nuclear power than Obama, who has taken a more guarded position. McCain has said that he’d work to bring 45 new nuclear power plants online by 2030, with the eventual goal of building 100 new nuclear plants. Obama has criticized that, highlighting his opposition to long-term storage of nuclear waste at the federal government’s Yucca Mountain site in Nevada. "He wants to build 45 new nuclear reactors when they don’t have a plan to store the waste anywhere besides right here," Obama said June 25 in Las Vegas. McCain supports going ahead with the Yucca Mountain plan.

The absence of long-term storage facilities is a key obstacle to building new plants. But Obama’s 2007 plan promised that he "will also lead federal efforts to look for a safe, long-term disposal solution based on objective, scientific analysis." It’s inaccurate to cast Obama as an opponent, and McCain goes too far when he portrays Obama as saying "no" to nuclear.

The McCain ad is on target elsewhere. It says Obama is opposed to opening up new areas for offshore drilling, and he is. And it says Obama is opposed to McCain’s proposal for a three-month suspension of the 18.4-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax, which is also true. That "gas tax holiday," an idea that has been criticized by more than 300 economists, was to have started on Memorial Day, however, and has a near-zero chance of enactment.

The Original Dr. No
Footnote: "Dr. No" was the villain in the first of the James Bond films, of the same name, released in 1962. The fictional Dr. No had lost his hands in a radiation accident:

Bond: It was a good idea to use atomic power. I’m glad to see you can handle it properly. …

Dr. No: My work has given me a unique knowledge of radioactivity. But not without costs, as you see. [Indicating his prosthetic hands]

Dr. No later meets his doom in the bubbling cooling vat of a nuclear reactor that is melting down. The reactor later explodes, obliterating Dr. No’s island complex. The movie was released 17 years before the real near-meltdown at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania, on March 28, 1979. The movie doesn’t really tell us anything about whether today’s nuclear plants are safe, but we thought it was worth a mention.

— by Brooks Jackson


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