Nearing Election, McCain and Palin Shift Views on Ethanol

  • Published on October 28th, 2008

While campaigning in Iowa this week, John McCain offered a glimmer of new support for the ethanol industry that he has long been opposed to.

In general it is thought that rural America feels more closely aligned with the Republican Party’s conservative social views.  However, right now it’s the Democrats who support the ethanol and subsidy policies that help so many farmers in the middle of the country to stay afloat.

Corn growers from across the nation are heading to the polls next week, and many are still feeling confused.

John Wallbrown owns a 2,800-acre farm in Portage County, Ohio.  He said that he has heard from peers who are upset with the Republican Party, and though he still plans to cast his ballot for McCain, he told the Beacon Journal in Ohio that:  ”McCain will probably lose some votes this year.”

Historically McCain and Obama have not agreed on the issue of farm subsidies.  Subsidies offer a financial safety net for farmers across the nation, whose livelihoods are very tied to the whims of nature.  McCain has been opposed to them, while Obama has offered support.

[social_buttons]This week, however, McCain softened his stance on ethanol, while campaigning in Iowa.  Mr. McCain’s views on ethanol have not helped him to gain support in Iowa, a state where he trails behind Barack Obama in the double digits.

Speaking to an audience at the University of Northern Iowa, McCain said, “We’ll invest in all energy alternatives: nuclear, wind, tide, solar, ethanol, biofuels.”

Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, also brought up ethanol while campaigning in Iowa, calling for “harnessing alternative sources like the wind, and the solar and the biomass and the geothermal and the ethanol.”

Of course McCain did not outwardly state that he wants to support the tariffs and multi-billion dollar government subsidies that allow the American corn ethanol industry to continue.  But, as Larry Rohter of the New York Times points out:  “…the economic logic contained in the position he stated here points almost inevitably in that direction.”

Sources:, GreenInc.
Photo:  Wikimedia Commons

About the Author

Meg Hamill has been working in the environmental non-profit field in Northern California for the past six years. She currently works as a naturalist for LandPaths (in partnership with the Open Space District) in Santa Rosa California. She teaches poetry in the public school through California Poets in the Schools (CPITS) and has traveled extensively throughout South and Central America, picking up Spanish along the way. In 1999 she completed a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Meg holds an MFA in Creative Writing and has published two books of political/environmental poetry. Read more, buy books and e-mail Meg at


  • Corn based ethanol is no environmentalist's dream. It is a most inefficient source of fuel, and is only around because of politics. There are much better sources for biofuel. Switchgrass, jatropha and hemp for example. Corn prices are rising now because of this, and we eat plenty of corn. As far as subsidies go, they're not needed, and drive prices up. Look at New Zealand. After they ended farm subsidies, their farming business really boomed. Without their government telling them what to plant, the free market decided, and they have a much more fruitful and innovative agricultural economy for it.

  • You write that “it’s the Democrats who support the ethanol and subsidy policies that help so many farmers in the middle of the country to stay afloat” … as if that is something for which the Democrats should feel proud.

    They shouldn’t. Those policies are, essentially, subsidizing consumption of liquid transport fuels (in part through lowering the price of blended fuels at the pump), and discouraging conservation. They are encouraging the plowing up of former prairie lands, the expansion of corn monocultures, and the intensification of chemical and water use that that implies. And the more that biofuel policies drive up the prices of grains and vetable oils, the more that people in the poorest nations of the world suffer.

    And who among the farmers are benefitting? Owners of prime arable land, that’s who. Livestock farmers do not benefit, nor do farmers who have to lease farmland (as do many young farmers and many producers of organic vegetables).

    McCain may be wrong-headed on a lot of policies, but he is (or at least was) right to oppose the wasteful way that corn ethanol is being supported in the United States.

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