Politics

Fair Weather

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There are certain streaks that have become etched in American lore: Joe DiMaggio's 56 straight games with a hit, UCLA's 88-game unbeaten run in men's basketball. Slightly less famous, but still impressive, is this feat: Between April 12 and May 24 of last year, John McCain missed 46 consecutive votes in the U.S. Senate. In fact, McCain missed more than half of all Senate votes last year, enough to disqualify him from the infamous National Journal rankings that purported to find Barack Obama the most liberal senator.

Now, we understand that McCain had elsewhere to be. We don't expect senators running for president to be around for every vote to name a post office or confirm a judge. Both Obama and Hillary Clinton missed their fair share of votes, though they managed to make it back to Capitol Hill more frequently than McCain did. But the business of legislating doesn't stop just because it's an election year, or at least it shouldn't. Senators do have an obligation to return from the campaign trail in order to cast votes on the major issues pending before Congress.

Which is why it's distressing that John McCain announced that he'd be skipping a vote on the LiebermanWarner climate-change bill. McCain has long sought to portray himself as a rare breed of green Republican. But, as Bradford Plumer has written, McCain's rhetorical commitment to the environment hasn't been matched by an interest in the quotidian business of conducting negotiations and building coalitions in order to actually move important legislation ("Grand Canyon," March 12). McCain's decision to skip the vote on Lieberman-Warner only strengthens that conclusion.

Not to mention, McCain's position on the merits of the bill is somewhere between muddled and incoherent. A month ago, McCain told reporters he hoped it would pass; three weeks later, he abruptly changed course and announced his opposition, on the grounds that it doesn't offer sufficient aid to the nuclear- power industry.

This would be a bizarre stance for any politician to take. For someone who claims to support cap-and-trade and who has made a career out of taking morally righteous stands against special interests, it's downright absurd. And McCain apparently has no desire to come to Washington and offer an amendment to address his objections to the bill. Nor is this an isolated incident: Last month, McCain also opposed Virginia Senator Jim Webb's new G.I. Bill, a bipartisan measure to expand education benefits for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan--but he couldn't be bothered to either vote on it or try to amend it.

McCain points to his long Senate career as proof that he's qualified to serve as president. Problem is, McCain seems to view the Senate more as a bully pulpit than a legislative body. His career consists largely of embracing grand causes while devoting little attention to the pesky details of implementing them--of, you know, governing.

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