D'oh! I was a bit premature yesterday when I lauded Republican John McCain for his bold approach for pressuring China and India on establishing standards reduce carbon emissions. Unlike the Bush Administration, which has used intransigence in the developing world as an excuse to do nothing at home, McCain refused to shrug his shoulders and throw up his hands. "And if industrializing countries seek an economic advantage by evading those standards," he was to say, according to his prepared remarks, "I would work with the European Union and other like-minded governments that plan to address the global warming problem to develop a cost equalization mechanism to apply to those countries that decline to enact a similar cap." Democrats are nowhere near as aggressive on this matter. They promise negotiation, but China and India are in no mood to negotiate -- and without them on board, any climate change scheme is bound to fail. It struck me as akin to Nixon going to China: only an unabashed free trader could credibly propose what is probably the only solution to the dilemma -- a tariff.

Alas, it turns out McCain's not going anywhere anytime soon. Apparently the Arizona senator didn't prepare the remarks himself, or perhaps even see them until he was en route to the Vestas factory. When it came time to deliver the speech, the presumptive Republican nominee was much more conciliatory. He added language that stressed cooperation. Gone was mention of a "cost equalization mechanism." Instead he said, "I would work with the European Union and other like-minded governments that plan to address the global warming problem to develop effective diplomacy, effect a transfer of technology, or other means to engage those countries that decline to enact a similar cap." Very Democratic of him -- and not much different from what Barack Obama has proposed (pdf).

This morning I asked McCain spokesman Brian Rogers what happened. He described the new language not as a change but as a clarification. "Sen Mccain just wanted to be more a clear about where he was as a free trader," Rogers explained. "The language that he actually ended up delivering is better representative of where he is on that issue." In a conference call with reporters, McCain senior policy adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin elaborated. "What he believes is you can equalize cost in the United States and elsewhere by selling the innovation and the low carbon technology worldwide, so that everybody is using the same industrial footprint that's more environmentally friendly," Holtz-Eakin said. "He thinks that engaging diplomatically, getting them on board for pursuing that, inventing some new technologies, is cost equalization. His concern was that the original formulation sounded like too much like an interference with free trade, and that's not something he wanted people to take away as a bottom line."

Silly me for misconstruing! Although I'll simply point out that while technology transfer may be cost equalization, it is not a "cost equalization mechanism," per se.

McCain's revised remarks are online now, as is a helpful summary of his agenda.