Every time I do a debate with some wingnut these days, they are always citing the National Journal poll that lists Obama as the most liberal member of the Senate. More liberal than Russ Feingold? Really? More liberal than socialist Bernie Sanders? Seriously?
I guess it’s time to debunk this myth once again.
Common sense alone should tell anyone that Barack Obama’s voting record is almost idential to Hillary Clinton’s, and she’s roundly considered a "centrist" Democrat. So how did the National Journal screw this up? Josh Patashnik at TNR actually did a good analysis.
Problem #1 — they don’t count missed votes, and Obama was on the road campaigning for much of the time. He publicly supported free trade with Peru, which would have counted as a "conservative" vote, for instance. Since a large group of Democrats are only separated by a few votes, one or two votes could dramatically change the rankings.
Problem #2 — they impute ideology when it isn’t necessarily there:
Two of Russ Feingold’s four "conservative" votes were against Democratic bills that would have endorsed a partition of Iraq and limited the mission of U.S. troops there to counterterrorism and training missions. These "conservative" votes, like Sanders’s on immigration, came because he was further left than the bulk of the Democratic caucus.
The ridiculousness of the system explains why Chris Dodd was ranked the 23rd most liberal senator, casting four "conservative" votes:
One was against the Office of Public Integrity bill. Another was against an obscure amendment that, in a similar vein, would have tightened conflict-of-interest rules for individuals serving on FDA advisory panels (Kerry and Ted Kennedy took the "conservative" side with Dodd). The other two were Iraq votes on measures setting withdrawal timelines for American troops, which Dodd, who during the presidential campaign criticized Obama and Hillary Clinton from the left on Iraq, opposed because he wanted an even more aggressive timeline. And because Dodd was absent for so many votes, the impact of these "conservative" votes was magnified–so the very liberal Dodd landed right in the middle of the Democratic pack, despite not casting a single genuinely conservative vote.
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