Monday, March 1, 2004

National Journal, the non-ideological, authoritative weekly magazine that covers Washington politics and policy, issued its congressional vote ratings for 2003 last week. Not surprisingly, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who is increasingly looking like a cinch to be his party’s presidential nominee, found himself in familiar territory. Once again, Mr. Kerry has staked out the far-left fringe on the National Journal’s liberal-conservative continuum.

On a scale that ranges from 0 to 100, Mr. Kerry compiled a composite liberal score for 2003 of 96.5, the highest in the Senate. He eclipsed proud liberals like Paul Sarbanes (94.7) of Maryland, Barbara Boxer (91.2) of California, Tom Harkin (89.3) of Iowa and the Senate’s liberal lion, Edward Kennedy (88.3), his Massachusetts colleague. It was the fourth time in his 20-year Senate career that Mr. Kerry compiled a composite voting record that was unsurpassed in its liberalism by any of the other 99 members of the Senate.

Each year, National Journal selects dozens of key votes (62 for the Senate in 2003) and divides them among three categories of issues: economic, social and foreign policy. On economic votes, Mr. Kerry tied with six other Democrats to claim the highest ranking of 93. It was the third year in a row that Mr. Kerry established himself among the select, small group whose members were cumulatively ranked as the most liberal in the Senate on economic matters.

Because Mr. Kerry spent much of last year campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, he did not cast enough official votes to obtain a specific ranking in the social and foreign-policy categories. (Suffice to say that the votes that he did cast were sufficiently to the left that his composite score still placed him at the top of the liberal scale.) Moreover, in 16 of the social and foreign-policy votes that Mr. Kerry missed, he announced his position on the issue. And according to tabulations by CQ Weekly (another non-ideological journal covering Congress), Mr. Kerry’s publicly announced position was identical to the vote cast by Mr. Kennedy on 14 of those occasions, or 88 percent of the time. It should also be noted that during 10 years of Mr. Kerry’s Senate career, including 2002, not a single senator was ranked more liberal than Mr. Kerry on social-issue votes. In addition, regarding CQ’s separate survey of “key votes” in 2003 on which Mr. Kerry either cast a vote or publicly announced his position, it was identical to Mr. Kennedy’s vote 100 percent of the time.

When questioned at Sunday’s Democratic debate in New York City about reclaiming his distinction as the most liberal U.S. senator in 2003, Mr. Kerry called it “a laughable characterization” and “the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” He asserted that “labels are so silly in American politics.” But Mr. Kerry often indulges in ascribing “right-wing” or “far-right” labels to President Bush. For example, on what would have been Martin Luther King Jr.’s 75th birthday, Mr. Kerry accused the president of “threatening civil rights on behalf of right-wing ideologues.” Apparently, Mr. Kerry doesn’t have anything against labels. He just doesn’t like the “liberal” label.

In fact, the recent analyses of 2003 votes by National Journal and CQ Weekly clearly confirm what Mr. Kerry has spent two decades doing in the Senate — and that is establishing himself as one of that body’s most liberal members. If Mr. Kerry doesn’t like the votes selected by National Journal and CQ Weekly, perhaps he should look at the vote ratings compiled by Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), the premier, self-styled liberal organization in America. Based on the 20 votes each year that it considers to be the most important to liberals, ADA assigns a “liberal quotient” to each member of Congress. Mr. Kerry’s career “liberal quotient” is a solid 92 percent. That ranks him higher than Mr. Kennedy (90 percent), establishing Mr. Kerry irrefutably as the “liberal senator from Massachusetts.” No wonder Mr. Kerry is running as fast as he can from the liberal record he has spent 20 years compiling. It is a record this page will be meticulously reviewing as the campaign moves forward.

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