Tuesday, August 3, 2004

You know what they say...

If you missed last night’s Daily Show, try and catch the rerun. (Or look for it in a few days online.) Jon Stewart lit into Henry Bonilla (R-TX), who was on to talk about his experience as part of the Republican rapid response team last week in Boston. It’s a pretty dramatic take down, and it started so innocently.

Stewart asked about the “first and fourth most liberal Senators” claim that’s become a Republican talking point in the past month. Bonilla clearly had no idea where the claim originated, just that it must be true. “But which group ranked them?” asked Stewart, appearing completely sincere in his desire to find out. Bonilla hedged, claiming it was a collection of unnamed “groups” responsible for the ranking. “Is this making sense?” he asked Stewart. “No, not really,” was the reply. Stewart asked at least a half dozen times, demonstrating again and again that Bonilla didn’t have a clue but believed it 100%. (Remember: it’s not a lie if you believe it.)

Turns out Stewart knew all along who had come up with the ranking: the National Journal, which looked at roll call votes in 2003 to come up with its ranking. Only problem is, when you rank on those same criteria but include all votes, turns out that Kerry and Edwards are much closer to the Democratic median — with Edwards being slightly to the right of the median. (An excerpted transcript of the exchange between Stewart and Bonilla is here, courtesy of Angry Bear.)

Monday’s NY Times has an op-ed from the Brookings Institution on this subject, and Spinsanity (who wrote an op-ed of their own in the Philadelphia Inquirer on the subject) links to the University of Houston study that establishes the broader voting record and ranking of the two Senators.

Stewart’s clearly annoyed at the punditocracy and spinning that’s shaping views. Last week, in response to Tom Brokaw’s question about whether Stewart was concerned that many 18-34 year-old’s get their news from The Daily Show, Stewart responded, “I’m concerned about the incredible number of people who say they get the news from you guys.” Ouch. He concluded last night’s show by pleading with viewers: “Do yourself a favor. Turn your TV off, and try thinking about the issues yourself. Whatever you do, don’t listen to this guy…” Pictures of the talking heads on TV started appearing, eventually covering the screen. “Seriously. Make up your own mind.”


  1. Of Course It's True. I Said It, Didn't I?

    Jon Stewart last night on The Daily Show had as a guest a Republican Congressman who kept referring to John Kerry as the most liberal Senator and John Edwards as the fourth most liberal Senator. Stewart kept asking the Congressman,

  2. Everything I Got

    A lot went on today that was worth considering and because I have a couple of other things to do before bed I'm going to just combine a bunch of the thoughts I had today into a sort of stream...

  3. Rick --

    You may or may not remember me from a few weeks back...I'm one of your LinkedIn contacts and we e-mailed a bit about our political differences. I'm the lawyer in Rockford.

    Your post about the last night's Daily Show caught my attention because I'm interested in the significance between "roll call votes" and "broader voting records." I'll admit that I haven't taken the time to read the NY Times or Spinsanity op-eds yet, but I have to imagine that "roll call votes" are more indicative of a candidate's political philosopy than his "broader voting record" (which presumably includes all of his or her votes on every little procedural matter that comes up).

    It is my understanding that "roll call votes" are, for the most part, the Senator's actual votes for or against a particular piece of legislation (i.e. "on passage"). I may well be wrong about this, but that's my understanding.

    If I'm right, then the National Journal rankings are actually a more accurate measure of a Senator's overall political philosophy.

    I'm interested in your thoughts.


  4. Brendan - Certainly remember chatting, and thanks for bringing up the point. There are two complaints about the NJ designation: one, that they looked only at the 2003 voting record, clearly not indicative of either Senator's career. Two, that they only looked at roll call votes.

    As for roll call votes (defined here and discussed here), what the NJ survey wouldn't take into account are any votes that were unanimous. (What I'm admittedly unclear on are any other votes that wouldn't be 'roll call' votes but that would require a vote by the Senators.)

    So if you want to throw the "most liberal" and "fourth most liberal" labels around, I think the fairest way to do so is to at least look at all roll call votes over the Senators' careers; ideally you'd include all votes.

  5. Rick -- Fair enough. Objectively, however, wouldn't you agree that Kerry is a "liberal" in the commonly understood sense of that term? More to the point, the NJ ratings are not the only indicia of his liberalism.

    When you look, for example, at the "ratings" issued by partisan interest groups (most of which are listed in the front of Michael Barone's Almanac of American Politics), Kerry rates very poorly (generally under 20% and sometimes as low as 8-10%) on a lifetime basis with "conservative" interest groups (e.g. Americans for Tax Reform, the Heritage Foundation) and very well (generally over 90%) with "liberal" interest groups (e.g. NARAL, ACLU, etc.).

    It seems to me that the fact of Kerry's liberalism is (or should be) beyond debate at this point (regardless of whether he's the "most" liberal Senator or not). What interests me is why no candidate seems to want to accept the liberal "label." If the policies that make one "liberal" are good policies, why doesn't Kerry proudly proclaim that he is a liberal?


  6. Brendan - You've brought up a point that is widely discussed here in my circle. How did "liberal" get to be such a dirty word that even those of us who are self-professed liberals hate to say it out loud?

    The only conclusion we've been able to draw sounds too simplistic: that's it's the result of spin and "marketing" by the conservatives to equate liberals with weakness and even to a certain extent, lack of values or immorality. I'll point to Ann Coulter's aborted column from the DNC as an example, since she was particularly nasty in her portrayal of liberals as dirty, hippie like, profane, and worse. We couldn't possibly have thought through our disagreement with the ideas - we must be stoned, or stupid - or worse, unpatriotic - because otherwise by now we'd have seen the light of the right.

    Perhaps it has been a liberal trait for too long to just shrug this stuff off....Of course Kerry and Edwards are liberal! I wish that they would just come out and say, "yeah, we are, SO WHAT?!" It would certainly make life a lot easier for those of us out here supporting them. But they are counseled against making that statement, and it's sad, imho.

    In any case, I've just started reading EJ Dionne's new book, Stand Up, Fight Back, and I know he addresses this topic as well. I am looking forward to his analysis which has got to be more piercing than what my friends and I came up with over drinks!

  7. "I think the fairest way to do so is to at least look at all roll call votes over the Senators' careers"
    It's hard to do for Kerry, given that he missed 65% (317) votes in the 108th session alone. Multiply that wonderful attendance record by 20 years and you're not left with a large pool of research.

    If you want direct info on Kerry's actual voting record, visit: http://www.vote-smart.org/voting_category.php?can_id=S0421103

    or visit: http://www.vote-smart.org/issue_rating_category.php?can_id=S0421103 and see how interest groups rate him on voting in relation to their causes.

  8. Oops, hit the submit button before I was done....

    The NJ findings were not some "spin" on Kerry's record. They were, in fact, based on his "positions" on legislation. What the Left has tried to do with Kerry's voting record is include every procedural vote, effectively trying to nullify the NJ's report. As you undoubtedly realize, including every procedural vote allows for the counting of Yeahs and Nays on a single piece of legislation (a prime example was Kerry's voting for the $86.5 billion Emergency Supplemental Appropriations legislation before voting against it). In the "new calculation" ala John Stewart, this would essentially come out as a wash - being neither a vote for nor a vote against. Obviously, the true Kerry "position" was a no on this bill. Here's the info: http://vote-smart.org/issue_keyvote_detail.php?vote_id=3330&can_id=S0421103

    The NJ was addressing final votes on legislation (aka "position on the bill") not just "every vote" cast (which would essentially be multiple votes for and against on a single bill)...