Politics & Policy

The L-Word

The Washington Post tries to debunk Kerry's "liberal" label.

In one of the most transparently partisan pieces of “analysis” published by the Washington Post, John F. Harris on Monday debunked the myth that the Kerry-Edwards ticket is politically liberal.

#ad#This is, on its face, preposterous. It is akin to arguing that Tom DeLay or Rick Santorum are unfairly labeled as conservatives.

The piece was so awful that the Bush-Cheney campaign should demand a rebuttal.

Let’s deal with the facts.

Any objective political reporter would determine that John Kerry is, using contemporary definitions, vote ratings, and vote comparisons, a liberal. Kerry’s voting record and positions on most issues (voted for numerous tax increases, voted to cut national defense spending on numerous occasions, pro-choice, supports affirmative action, opposes the death penalty, voted in 1989 against the death penalty for terrorists that kill Americans abroad, etc.) match what most Americans would consider the definition of a modern American liberal. Numerous vote-rating schemes (National Journal’s, Americans for Democratic Action’s, American Conservative Union’s) classify Kerry as a liberal. The fact that Kerry has voted with Ted Kennedy, the embodiment of American liberalism, 94 percent of the time, is yet another obvious indication that Kerry is a liberal.

And finally, there is The Almanac of American Politics, the nonpartisan bible of national politics. It is on every shelf, desk, or cubicle of every Hill rat, lobbyist, consultant, and political journalist in D.C. It is a standard reference work in every college library. What does The Almanac of American Politics say about John Kerry?

‐”Kerry’s liberal positions on most cultural and economic issues would obviously be an asset in most Democratic primaries but might not be in a general election.” (Page 779)

There is simply no other way to classify John Kerry in modern America. Kerry is, politically speaking, a liberal senator.

Despite all of the supporting evidence, Harris’s article attempts to muddy the waters and call the obvious into question.

Harris’s piece attempts to call into question Kerry’s liberal credentials by citing Kerry’s support for “major deficit-reduction measures sponsored by avowed conservatives” and his 1996 vote for welfare reform. By this same logic any number of demonstrably conservative lawmakers could evade the conservative label by voting against free-trade legislation or for hate-crimes legislation or for the National Endowment for the Arts. Of course, Harris lodges this specious assertion under the aegis of “Kerry defenders.” Yet, he never scrutinizes this obviously flawed reasoning.

Even more troubling is that he barely cites votes that obviously mark Kerry as a liberal. And, when he does cite these votes, it is through Scott Stanzel, a Bush-Cheney spokesman.

Harris’s piece then raises two of the main Washington arguments for labeling John Kerry a liberal and attempts to throw cold water on both of them. The first is voting data compiled by National Journal, which found Kerry to have the most liberal 2003 voting record in the Senate. The second is the liberal ADA’s rating system, which gave Kerry a lifetime vote rating of 92 out of a possible 100.

Harris’s general argument against vote-rating schemes is that they “can sometimes be thrown off kilter in ways that leave a distorted impression.” This may be true. But, one would suppose that this “distortion” would push Kerry toward the center some years. It doesn’t.

Harris’s argument against National Journal’s rating scheme is that Kerry missed so many votes running for his party’s nomination that the most recent ratings may be skewed. There is a very big problem with his criticism. The problem here is that the votes Kerry actually made it back to Washington to cast were defining votes he wanted to use on the campaign trail. In fact, Kerry was highlighting his liberalism with those votes as a way to court liberal Democratic primary voters. From this vantage point, one could argue that the National Journal vote-rating scheme was even more accurate for Kerry than in other years.

Harris’s argument against lifetime ADA ratings is even more suspect. Here Harris bludgeons the straw man that Kerry’s lifetime ADA rating of 92 exceeds Walter Mondale’s lifetime ADA rating of 90 by arguing that times have changed and since the two occupied different political eras, any comparison is problematic.

Fortunately, that’s not the GOP’s argument. Our argument is that a 92-lifetime ADA rating makes Kerry more liberal than contemporaries Ted Kennedy (lifetime ADA rating = 90) and Tom Daschle (lifetime ADA rating = 83).

Harris’s final argument against the liberal label for Kerry is that he was supported by the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) in the Democrat primaries. But, it’s worth remembering that the DLC, a group made famous by Bill Clinton’s triangulation strategy, backed Kerry out of fear that Howard Dean and his extremely liberal faction would win the nomination and deal the DLC a massive defeat. Kerry was the only viable non-Dean for the DLC to realistically back.

By Harris’s logic, George W. Bush could claim that his conservative label is unfair, since he is being supported by Democratic Senator Zell Miller and in 2000 had the support of the Log Cabin Republicans.

Harris tells his readers that “this year’s presidential campaign marks the latest effort to hurl the L-word–the most familiar and, on some occasions, most lethal spear in the Republican arsenal.” The Washington Post is committed to shielding the Democratic ticket from that spear.

Robert Moran is a vice president at Republican polling firm Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates. He is an NRO contributor.

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