NY Times touted National Journal vote ratings to cast doubt on Obama's ability to "end the partisan and ideological wars"

››› ››› KATHLEEN HENEHAN

In an article discussing whether Sen. Barack Obama "can transcend the starkly red-and-blue politics of the last 15 years, end the partisan and ideological wars and build a new governing majority," The New York Times noted that the National Journal rated Obama's "voting record ... the most liberal in the Senate." But the Times did not mention that the Journal's rating conflicts with that of a respected study that, in contrast to the Journal's, uses every non-unanimous vote cast within a given year.

In a March 25 article headlined "Obama's Test: Can a Liberal Be a Unifier?" The New York Times noted that one study -- by the National Journal -- rated Sen. Barack Obama's "voting record ... the most liberal in the Senate last year," ignoring a respected vote study by political science professors Keith Poole and Jeff Lewis that uses every non-unanimous vote cast by every legislator to determine his or her relative ideology and that rated Obama tied for 10th most liberal senator in 2007. By contrast, the National Journal's analysis used "99 key Senate votes, selected by NJ reporters and editors, to place every senator on a liberal-to-conservative scale."

Moreover, Times reporter Robin Toner wrote later in the article: "A recent analysis of key votes by The National Journal concluded that Mr. Obama had the Senate's most liberal voting record in 2007; Mrs. [Sen. Hillary] Clinton ranked 16th. But of the 267 measures on which both senators voted, the National Journal analysis found that they differed on only 10." In doing so, the Times overstated the comprehensiveness of the 2007 Journal ratings by falsely suggesting they were based on 267 Senate votes.

As Media Matters for America has repeatedly documented, among the votes Obama took that purportedly earned him the Journal's "most liberal senator" label were those to implement the 9-11 Commission's homeland security recommendations, provide more children with health insurance, expand federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, and maintain a federal minimum wage. Obama himself criticized the Journal's methodology by noting that it considered "liberal" his vote for "an office of public integrity that stood outside of the Senate, and outside of Congress, to make sure that you've got an impartial eye on ethics problems inside of Congress." Media Matters has also previously noted that the Journal admitted to having used flawed methodology in the publication's previous rating of then-Democratic presidential front-runner Sen. John Kerry (MA) as the "most liberal senator" in 2003.

From the March 25 New York Times article:

At the core of Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign is a promise that he can transcend the starkly red-and-blue politics of the last 15 years, end the partisan and ideological wars and build a new governing majority.

To achieve the change the country wants, he says, ''we need a leader who can finally move beyond the divisive politics of Washington and bring Democrats, independents and Republicans together to get things done.''

But this promise leads, inevitably, to a question: Can such a majority be built and led by Mr. Obama, whose voting record was, by one ranking, the most liberal in the Senate last year?

Also, and more immediately, if Mr. Obama wins the Democratic nomination, how will his promise of a new and less polarized type of politics fare against the Republican attacks that since the 1980s have portrayed Democrats as far out of step with the country's values?

To many political strategists, the furor over the racial views of Mr. Obama's former pastor is only the first of many such tests the senator will face if he is the nominee.

[...]

Mr. Obama's rise has been built in part on the idea that he represents a break from the established identities that have defined many of the nation's divisions. To many, he embodies a promise to bridge black and white, old and young, rich and poor -- and Democrats, Republicans and independents.

Even so, Mr. Obama does not come to the campaign with a reputation as one of the most accommodating bridge-builders in the Senate. And while he promises a very different politics from Mrs. Clinton, their voting records in the Senate last year were not strikingly different.

A recent analysis of key votes by The National Journal concluded that Mr. Obama had the Senate's most liberal voting record in 2007; Mrs. Clinton ranked 16th. But of the 267 measures on which both senators voted, the National Journal analysis found that they differed on only 10. One of their major differences came on an amendment that called for the designation of the Revolutionary Guards in Iran as a terrorist organization; while Mrs. Clinton supported it, Mr. Obama missed the vote, but said he opposed it.

Congressional Quarterly said Mr. Obama voted with his party 97 percent of the time on party-line votes last year; Mrs. Clinton did so 98 percent of the time.

[...]

So far, Republicans give every indication of planning to portray Mr. Obama as just another big-government liberal.

''When you're rated by National Journal as to the left of Ted Kennedy and Bernie Sanders, that's going to be difficult to explain,'' said Danny Diaz, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

Mr. Obama insists that while his core values are progressive, he himself is not ideological. His policy differences with Mrs. Clinton are limited, and his proposals are solidly in the mainstream of Democratic thought.

Posted In
Elections
Network/Outlet
The New York Times, National Journal Group
Person
Robin Toner
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
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