Here we go again.
Four years ago, National Journal, using comically flawed methodology, calculated that John Kerry was the Senate’s “most liberal” member. Today they’ve decided it’s Barack Obama. What happened next was like clockwork: ABC News’s The Note introduced the story as “one of those titles Obama could live without” because, well, you know… it kind of sounds like “leper.” Covering a rally for the Illinois senator, an Oakland Tribune reporter quoted Republican National Committee spokesman Paul Lindsay observing, “Barack Obama claims to unite the country, but his new distinction as the ‘most liberal’ member of the Senate confirms that he’s only uniting the extreme left-wing of the Democrat Party.”
“It’s true enough that this is a moment when the Democrats are called upon to reject extreme liberalism (whatever that might be) and to embrace moderation,” Michael Kinsley sagely observed four years ago, “but that is only because every moment is such a moment.” “This is basically not a liberal country,” explained John Harris, then political editor of the Washington Post and now an editor of the professedly apolitical tip sheet Politico.com, in May 2005. “It’s a conservative country.”
Well, that’s that.
Space precludes a complete recap of all the problems with the MSM’s assumptions here, but let’s start with the fact that National Journal rankings are nonsense. Obama is not “more liberal” than Bernie Sanders, Russ Feingold or Ted Kennedy, as any sentient individual could attest. The fact that Obama finished number sixteen three years ago, and number ten two years ago, implies that he moved sharply left during his presidential run. But the truth is, he merely missed a lot of votes. National Journal did not distinguish between important votes and silly ones, however, and so the missed votes skewed the results beyond recognition. Had the magazine used the far more respected ranking system devised by political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal, Obama would have ranked around number eleven this year and number twenty-one in the previous Senate.
Of course, that’s not going to matter come November. “Senator Kerry is rated as the most liberal member of the United States Senate, and he chose a fellow lawyer who is the fourth most liberal member of the United States Senate,” George W. Bush joked four years ago. “Back in Massachusetts, that’s what they call balancing the ticket.” Kerry ran away from the label, telling USA Today about the “Massachusetts liberal” tag: “People know it’s a lot of malarkey.” So, alas, did John Edwards. Asked by ABC’s Ted Koppel, “Are you a liberal?” he responded, “No. I don’t believe in labels, first of all. I don’t think they mean anything. I think what John Kerry and I are is mainstream America.”