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July 25, 2008
Silly Rankings Tab Obama ‘Most Liberal’ Senator
When Sen. John McCain
was asked last week by the Kansas City Star if he believes his
opponent, Sen. Barack Obama is a socialist, he gave an interesting
answer: “I don't know.”
What was McCain's
reasoning? According to the paper, the Republican nominee explained that
“his voting record . . . is more to the left than the announced
socialist in the United States Senate, Bernie Sanders of Vermont.”
In the same interview,
he elaborated that Obama's Senate record is not only the most liberal,
but is “the most extreme.” And if someone is an extreme liberal, then
they must be a socialist.
Where did McCain get
this idea? It's the gift that keeps on giving to conservatives for the
second straight election cycle: The National Journal's annual
Vote Ratings survey. In the rankings for 2007, Obama is ranked the most
liberal senator of the 100, despite ranking 16th in 2005 and tying for
10th in 2006. Somewhat bizarrely, the 2004 Democratic nominee, John
Kerry, ranked the most liberal in the same survey despite having
finished lower previously.
As has been pointed out
by everyone from Fair and Accuracy in Reporting to the Chicago
Tribune's Steve Chapman to Salon's Alex Koppelman to a blog called
mostliberalsenator.blogspot.com, the survey's methodology is curious, to
say the least – respected and nonpartisan as the National Journal
It randomly assigns
“liberal” and “conservative” value to various issues and votes where
those labels aren't so accurate. Voting to establish an “an Office of
Public Integrity,” for instance, is considered “liberal,” as is support
of stronger inspection of shipping containers. Clearly America must be
protected from such radical, dangerous, liberal notions.
In addition, Obama, who
was running for president for most of 2007, missed a significant number
of votes, which would seem to skew any sampling of how liberal or
conservative he actually is. National Journal themselves later
acknowledged that, because Kerry missed so many votes while running in
2003, his number one ranking from that year was misleading.
is not ranked in the 2007 survey, because he “missed more than half of
the rated votes” during the concerned time period (Obama missed around a
third). The only other unrated senators are Craig Thomas of Wyoming, who
passed away in 2007; John Barrasso, who replaced Thomas mid-term; and
Tim Johnson of South Dakota, who suffered a brain hemorrhage and did not
vote for several months.
Finally, the rankings
themselves fail to even pass the laugh test. Joseph Biden, who has long
had a reputation as one of the leading centrist Democrats, is ranked the
third-most liberal senator, one spot ahead of Sanders, an avowed
socialist. And most ridiculously of all, Ted Kennedy, a liberal icon if
there ever was one, is ranked the 28th most liberal U.S. Senator.
Either Ted has
belatedly discovered conservatism in his old age (but not enough to
avoid endorsing Obama), or the methodology is faulty. No survey that
places Joseph Biden 25 spots ahead of Ted Kennedy on the liberalism
scale should be taken seriously by anyone.
Another, more accurate
counting system, called VoteView, places Obama as the 10th most liberal
for the current Senate, with McCain the 8th most conservative.
No, Obama isn't a
socialist, any more than he's a Muslim. Obama is only a "socialist" or a
"Marxist" if those words are defined in such a way as to entirely
disregard their generally accepted meaning.
When it comes to his
positions, yes, Obama is a pretty standard liberal. But it's his
temperament that's different. Unlike just about everyone in public life
who carries the label "radical" or "far leftist," Obama is not about
destroying the opposition, much less bringing about revolution.
I wrote a similar
column about Hillary Clinton about six months ago, and I think that says
something – and not that Hillary (number 16 most liberal, NJ says)
really is a socialist as well. It says that every Democratic
presidential contender in my lifetime has been called a "far leftist," a
radical and every other name in the book.
Let that be a lesson
that it is better to define candidates by what they say and do than to
recite the same discredited talking points over and over again.
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