Most Liberal Senator?

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Ted Barlow at Crooked Timber is making much ado about the misleading National Journal report that had John Kerry turning out to be the most liberal senator in 2003. All the information he presents has been known for a long time, and it surprises me that people still trot this out as a study that proves something about his really being the most liberal senator. I do think it's something to point to regarding his votes that year and what it reveals about his priorities (see below), but it's important to recognize the bigger picture, and this site that Kerry fans are promoting with a Google bomb is designed to give that bigger picture. Since nothing it says is false (except perhaps the claim that he's progressive and the claim, based on an unstated assumption that Cheney knows the truth, that he must have lied -- a problem also with Ted's Crooked Timber post), I don't mind linking to it, though I'm not going to join the Google bomb, because I think the whole tenor of it is misleading. There really is something important that this study shows.

As I commented on the Crooked Timber post, what was interesting to me about the National Journal study was the reason Kerry came out as most liberal in 2003. It was not because he changed his views and got more liberal on the issues he'd previously voted moderately on. It was because he showed up for such few votes that the ones he did vote on counted more, and those were the issues he's most liberal on. What it does reveal is that his liberal-leaning views are the ones that most define him, since those are the ones he cared about enough to show up for. That he voted more moderately some years rather than others is more an accident of what issues there were to vote on than an indication of his priorities. Since the difference with Edwards is even more drastic, that shows an even greater tendency to prefer liberal issues with a much more moderate stance when he doesn't choose which issues are most important to him.

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