Wednesday, August 11, 2004

As today is August 11th, it seems fitting that today should be the day that the Gadflyer's Paul Waldman reveals that John Kerry is the 11th most liberal member of the Senate, not the first as the GOP would have you believe. While the rankings the neo-cons have been trumpeting were compiled by the non-partisan National Journal, Waldman points out that the method used to calculate them is fundamentally flawed.
The funny thing about 2003 related to what the National Journal does when a legislator misses votes. The Journal used 62 votes to come up with the 2003 rankings, a fairly small number relative to the hundreds of votes a Senator casts in a year. They calculate three different ratings: one for economic policy, one for social policy, and one for foreign policy. These three are then combined to come up with an overall ranking.

But here's the catch: If a Senator misses more than half the votes the Journal uses in any one of these three categories, they don't count any of the votes he makes for that category, using only the remaining categories to calculate his overall score. If you're running for president, as both Kerry and Edwards were in 2003, you miss a lot of votes when you're off in coffee klatches and VFW halls in Iowa and New Hampshire. So Kerry missed 37 of the 62 votes, while Edwards missed 22. Consequently, the National Journal gave Kerry no score for economic or social policy, basing his entire ranking on his score on foreign policy. Edwards, on the other hand, got no score on foreign policy.

Obviously, if you want to know how liberal or conservative a Senator is, the best thing to do is to look at their entire career. How does Kerry compare to his colleagues? For starters, he's not the most liberal - in fact, among current Senators he comes in eleventh. Here's the top fifteen, with the composite score for each Senator in parentheses:

1. Mark Dayton, D-Minn. (90.3)

2. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md. (89.4)

3. Jack Reed, D-R.I. (89.3)

4. Jon Corzine, D-N.J. (88.8)

5. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. (88.6)

6. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. (88.5)

7. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa (87.6)

8. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. (87.3)

9. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. (86.2)

10. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. (86.0)

11. John Kerry, D-Mass. (85.7)

12. Carl Levin, D-Mich. (85.5)

13. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. (83.9)
14. Patty Murray, D-Wash. (83.8)

15. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. (83.8)

As for Edwards, he was the fourth most liberal in 2003. But he was 40th in 2002, 35th in 2001, 19th in 2000, and 31st in 1999, his first year in the Senate.
So there you have it, how the rankings were calculated and by whom (which even some members of the GOP who trumpet them couldn't tell you), AND why they are flawed. Never mind the fact that the argument is just plain wrong, it's also OLD; the neo-cons seem to roll out the same argument election year after election year--"(insert Democratic candidate's name here) is the most liberal (Senator, Congressman, Governor, etc)." Too often it works, because somewhere along the line, the Democrats allowed the Repugs to practically turn "liberal" into a swear word. How many people out there don't know exactly what liberal means, but somehow still "know" it's something bad, because the Republican noise machine was allowed to bully and slander, practically unchallenged, for so long? Far too many. Liberals are finally starting to fight back, in force, but can the damage be undone in time to un-seat King George?