Saturday, May 31, 2008

Barack Obama's U.S. Senate Facts, Not the Hype

Voting Record: The National Journal's Stats are Misleading

This isn't surprising since the same thing happened to John Kerry in 2004 (click to the front page of this blog and scroll down to the second post). I started this blog in 2004 as a response to the National Journal's flawed methodology that falsely asserted that John Kerry had the most liberal voting record in the Senate. I recently updated the blog when, true to form, The National Journal, using flawed methodology, claimed the smae thing about Senator Barack Obama. I have included many links that show why The National Journal's rankings are misleading.'s Alex Koppelman:
Obama's the most liberal senator?

Every year, the National Journal, a Washington weekly magazine, comes out with a ranking of the most liberal and conservative members of Congress. And just about as often, political campaigns use those rankings to score points against their opponents. But looking at the start of this year's list (the Journal released only partial results; the full list will be out in March), we can't help thinking of that other big annual ranking, U.S. News & World Report's college list. And we can't help wondering whether the National Journal's list is just as capricious -- and even, dare we say it, inaccurate -- as that one.

That's because the big finding the Journal is trumpeting this time around is that the Senate's most liberal member in 2007 was Sen. Barack Obama. That puts him ahead of, for example, Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold. Oh, and it also puts him ahead of an actual socialist, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. And then there's the man at No. 3, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, hardly known as a raging lefty. Biden comes in ahead of both Feingold and Sanders as well. (Sen. John Kerry was ranked as the most liberal in 2003, another distinction that seems dubious and became a campaign issue.)

If you're wondering, Obama's rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton, is ranked 16th. That raises another question: Just how far apart are Obama and Clinton, really? The article the National Journal printed explaining its results suggests that, despite the disparity in their rankings, Obama's and Clinton's records were not that different for 2007. "In their yearlong race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Obama and Clinton have had strikingly similar voting records. Of the 267 measures on which both senators cast votes in 2007, the two differed on only 10," the authors write before going on to quote Richard Lau, a Rutgers University political scientist, as saying, "The policy differences between Clinton and Obama are so slight they are almost nonexistent to the average voter." The Journal qualifies these caveats by saying, "In a Senate in which party-line votes are the rule, the rare exceptions help to show how two senators who seemed like ideological twins in 2007 were not actually identical. Obama and Clinton were more like fraternal policy twins."

In an interview with War Room, National Journal editor Charles Green defended his magazine's analysis. "It varies from year to year who is listed as most liberal. It's rarely the same person every year ... there's some fluctuation," Green said, noting that moderate to conservative Democrats rarely end up ranked as liberal and that conservative Republicans also end up in the conservative column. As for the question of the difference between Obama and Clinton, Green said, "Are they two peas in a pod because they voted the same on 257 out of 267? Perhaps to some people, but to other people those other 10 votes where they differed help explain some of their positions."

On the Republican side, there are two remaining presidential candidates who are also members of Congress, Arizona Sen. John McCain and Texas Rep. Ron Paul. McCain missed too many votes to be included in the rankings; Paul ranked as the 178th most conservative member of the House of Representatives for the year.

Steve Benen of The Washington Monthly, Alexander Mooney of the CNN Political Ticker, Jason Linkins, Media Matters for America, Ed Kilgore, Chris Lawrence, and the blog MyDD have more.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Is John Kerry The Most Liberal Senator? An Analysis

Increasingly, right-wing and Republican operatives (such as George W. Bush)--and even members of the mainstream media--have repeated the false claims that John Kerry is the most liberal Senator and that John Edwards is the fourth most liberal member of the U.S. Senate. Both assertions are false.

Why are these claims false?

1) A comprehensive overview of the Senate voting records of John Kerry and John Edwards shows moderate voting records for both men. Here is a breakdown of the liberalism of their voting records in the Senate from 1999 through 2003:

Average: Kerry - 12th (85.9) Edwards - 24th (75.7)

2003: Kerry - 1st (96.5) Edwards - 4th (94.5)
2002: Kerry - 9th (87.3) Edwards - 31st (63.0)
2001: Kerry - 11th (87.7) Edwards - 35th (68.2)
2000: Kerry - 20th (77) Edwards - 19th (80.8)
1999: Kerry - 16th (80.8) Edwards - 31st (72.2)

Source: The National Journal (via Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly)

The National Journal also has compiled a ranking of the top ten liberals in the Senate according to lifetime voting record. Neither Kerry nor Edwards is on the list:

National Journal: Most liberal senators, lifetime voting
1. Mark Dayton, D-Minn.
2. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md.
3. Jack Reed, D-R.I.
4. Jon Corzine, D-N.J.
5. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
6. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
7. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa
8. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.
9. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.
10. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt

Kerry and Edwards are progressive Democrats but their voting records and positions on issues have been well to the right of prominent liberals like Teddy Kennedy and the late Paul Wellstone.

2) The National Journal findings that conservative pundits cite for their accusation that Kerry and Edwards have the first and fourth most liberal Senate voting records are partial and thus not representative. They conveniently cite only the year 2003--which is misleading because that year both Kerry and Edwards were campaigning and missed about 60 percent of the Senate votes.

This hasn't stopped the right from wholesale lies. For example, in a recent speech, Dick Cheney made the following false statements about Kerry's Senate voting record:

"John Kerry is, by National Journal ratings, the most liberal member of the United States Senate. Ted Kennedy is the more conservative of the two senators from Massachusetts. It's true. All you got to do is go look at the ratings systems. And that captures a lot, I think, in terms of somebody's philosophy. And it's not based on one vote, or one year, it's based on 20 years of service in the United States Senate."

Links and Updates:

The nonpartisan site Spinsanity gives a good overall view of this urban legend (click here).

The Daily Howler also has addressed this canard. Click here, here, and here.

Here is an article from an academic journal that debunks the myth.

The first-and-fourth-most-liberal-senators argument is a common talking point by GOP operatives. The following are some examples of prominent right-winger who have misinformed audiences:

Robert Novak

Sean Hannity

Bill O'Reilly

Joe Scarborough

The Bush campaign

Help with the Google Bomb Project
Attention bloggers and bulletin board surfers: google bomb this site. All you have to do is to hyperlink the words "most liberal senator" to the following URL:

The result will look like this: most liberal senator

This will allow on-the-fence web searchers to know the truth (and to let them know how the right is lying to them).

This site is a product of the Google Bomb Project.

This site is under construction and will be revised soon with more information.

This site was created by blogger and media hacker Scoobie Davis to address the misinformation (and disinformation) regarding the U.S. Senate voting records of John Kerry and John Edwards.

For general information on other media myths about Kerry, Eriposte has a comprehensive site.