QUESTION: The European Union has set mandatory targets on renewable energy. Is that something you would consider in a McCain administration? [...]
MCCAIN: Sure. I believe in the cap-and-trade system, as you know. I would not at this time make those -- impose a mandatory cap at this time. But I do believe that we have to establish targets for reductions of greenhouse gas emissions over time, and I think those can be met.
As hilzoy notes, McCain doesn't seem to have any idea what a cap-and-trade system of greenhouse gas emissions actually entails. He says he does not support a mandatory cap, only "targets for reductions". But a mandatory cap is a crucial component to any cap-and-trade system, hence the "cap" in the name, and "targets for reductions" is an incredibly vague and meaningless statement of policy.
The idea behind cap-and-trade is that you cap emissions at a certain level, and then allocate a set number of permits to all corporations that emit CO2. Each permit would be like an allowance for a certain amount of emissions. Some firms may find the cost of the permits higher than their cost of reducing emissions, and these firms will sell their permits to firms that have abatement costs higher than the cost of the permits. In this way, each firm is able to reach a cost-effective arrangement, at least in theory.
But if John McCain supports such a system, he is either lying or confused when he says he does not support mandatory caps. It's almost like one of his advisors convinced him that cap-and-trade was a good thing, but he never quite figured out what it actually means.
This isn't the only time he's said stuff like that. From an interview with Greenwire:
It's not quote mandatory caps. It's cap-and-trade, OK. It's not mandatory caps to start with. It's cap-and-trade. That's very different. OK, because that's a gradual reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions. So please portray it as cap-and-trade. That's the way I call it.
WTF is he talking about?
hilzoy also compiled some other examples of McCain's general confusion on the issues:
* He said that the number of troops in Iraq was "down to pre-surge levels". In fact, we have 25,000 more troops in Iraq than we did when the surge began.
* He gets Shi'a and Sunni Islam confused, and doesn't seem to know that Iran, which is Shi'a, is very unlikely to train al Qaeda in Iraq, which is Sunni, within its borders. Possibly that's because he thinks that al Qaeda is Shi'a.
* He doesn't seem to know what his own Social Security policy is. From the WSJ: "On Social Security, the Arizona senator says he still backs a system of private retirement accounts that President Bush pushed unsuccessfully, and disowned details of a Social Security proposal on his campaign Web site."
* He also seems to disagree with his campaign and his website on whether he plans to repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax.
* My personal favorite:
"The economy is not good. The stock market continues down. And the indicators are not good. I'm not too astonished. ... We let spending get totally out of control, and it continues today, and I'm sorry to tell you this," McCain said at a town-hall style meeting at the Carolina Hospital East Campus in Florence. (...)
"People talk about a stimulus package. Fine, if that's what we want to come up with. But stop the spending first," he said."
Um: excessive government spending does not slow the economy down. And you stimulate the economy by (basically) putting more money into it. Saying that we need to "stop the spending" before passing a stimulus package is like saying: "Sure, we need to deal with the flooding in your basement. But let's finish filling it up with water first."