Mike the Mad Biologist

Republican John McCain has repeatedly portrayed a study that uses bear DNA to estimate the population size of potentially endangered bears as an example of government waste and pork barrel spending. There’s one small problem, however.

McCain was for it before he was against it (italics mine):

While he tried to cut money for several other projects in the same bill, he never proposed cutting the bear study and voted for the final bill containing it….

The ad goes on to criticize an earmark that provided “$3 million to study the DNA of bears in Montana.” This is not the first time McCain has poked fun at the bear project. He first mentioned it on the Senate floor, while discussing the 2003 Omnibus Appropriations Bill that included funding for the project:

McCain (Senate floor, Feb. 13, 2003): Because these appropriations are never discussed with nonmembers of the Appropriations Committee, one can only imagine and conjure up an idea as to how this might be used. Approach a bear: That bear cub over there claims you are his father, and we need to take your DNA. Approach another bear: Two hikers had their food stolen by a bear, and we think it is you. We have to get the DNA. The DNA doesn’t fit, you got to acquit, if I might.

Good laugh lines, maybe, but the United States Geological Service’s Northern Divide Grizzly Bear Project didn’t study DNA for paternity tests or forensics. Rather, it explored a means of estimating Montana’s grizzly bear population by analyzing bear fur snagged on barbed wire. The project was funded partly by federal appropriations – about $1 million per year in add-ons to USGS in 2003 through 2005, $400,000 in 2006 and $300,000 in 2007, plus a $1.1 million earmark through the Forest Service in 2004, according to the study’s principal researcher, Katherine C. Kendall. Part of that funding was doled out as part of the omnibus appropriations bill McCain discussed in February 2003.

Despite the fun McCain had ridiculing the bear project on the Senate floor, he didn’t actually try to remove it from the bill. He did introduce several amendments, including three to reduce funding for projects he considered wasteful or harmful, but none removing the grizzly bear project appropriations. And despite his criticisms, he voted in favor of the final bill.

This isn’t simply a case of ‘gotcha’ hypocrisy. McCain’s flip-flop on the bear DNA study is part of a larger pattern when it comes to government spending: all talk, no walk. One of the ways McCain established his ‘maverickiness’ was by perpetually complaining about earmarks and spending. But he never actually did anything about it. He never held a filibuster, or even threatened to filibuster.

Sure, McCain’s willing to demagogue using the bear issue and other examples of government waste (I’m surprised he hasn’t used the expression “Does a bear shit in the woods?”). But he isn’t willing to take the political risk to cut what he claims is waste.

That says a lot about his character. So does cheating during the Rick Warren interview.

Related post: It is also demonstrates how McCain is a TV pundit at heart.

Comments

  1. #1 Jeb, FCD
    August 19, 2008

    Oh can I do this? “I think you have a rogue italics tag“. Lemme close it.

  2. #2 Jeb, FCD
    August 19, 2008

    Guess I don’t have teh mad skillz!

    McCain is douche-nozzle, btw.

  3. #3 Pineyman
    August 20, 2008

    National Geographic ran an article on the study, the ranger who ran it and McCain’s ridicule a few months ago. The one thing I clearly remember is comments from others about crossing said ranger, aka “The Bear Lady”. They did not consider it a smart thing to do. I believe there was also some comment about the ROI and it insinuated that McCain was a hypocrite, but that could just be my librul interpretation of what was written.

  4. #4 Dick
    September 11, 2008

    It’s OK to spend trillions in Iraq, but any money for science should be questioned, according to McCain, who doesn’t understand wildlife biology. DNA studies on populations of animals that are under stress (bears in Montana) are important. You must know the genetic relatedness between the different populations of a species, for management decisions. As populations of a species decline, inbreeding becomes one of the biggest threats to the survival of that species. This is money for basic science. The lack of understanding of basic science by the politicians, of both parties, is shameful.

  5. #5 mirc
    March 13, 2009

    thanks

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