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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 may be.


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.


McCain, interestingly, 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.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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