Those Congress rankings and the distortion of the term “conservative”






Well, every year groups from the ADA to the ACU to National Journal to The Club For Growth release ideological rankings of the 535 voting members of Congress.  Americans for Democratic Action ranks pols in accordance with their liberalism, while The American Conservative Union purportedly ranks pols in accordance with their conservatism.  The Club for Growth ranks DC pols in terms of their level of support for free market economic policies.

Well, National Journal — a news site focusing on Inside The Beltway machinations — has released their annual ideological rankings of Congress.   Senator Richard Burr is 77th on the LIBERAL scale, while he is 23rd on the CONSERVATIVE scale.  Kay Hagan (D)  ends up right smack in the middle — with a 48th ranking on the LIBERAL side and a 52 ranking on the CONSERVATIVE side.   How do you end up right smack in the middle?  That smells a lot like “someone” wets her  finger and holds it up into the wind when it comes time to make a decision.   For South Carolina,  Jim DeMint (R) ranked 3rd on the conservative scale and 97th on the liberal scale.  Lindsey Graham ranked 33rd on the conservative scale and 66th on the liberal scale.

Over in the House,  former Rep. Sue Myrick ranked as the most conservative member of the North Carolina delegation — with a ranking of 32nd on the conservative scale and 391st on the liberal scale.  (Joe “You Lie” Wilson of South Carolina was the most conservative member of the South Carolina delegation at 26th on the conservative scale and 395th on the liberal scale.)  Back to NC:  Renee Ellmers came in at 43rd on the conservative scale and 378th on the liberal scale.  Howard Coble came in at 153rd on the conservative scale and 269th on the liberal scale. 

Let’s check out Heritage Action for America’s congressional scorecard for 2012.  South Carolina’s Jeff Duncan was rated the most conservative, with a ranking of 97 percent.  (The GOP average was 66 percent.)   Heritage ranked Renee Ellmers as the least conservative Republican in the NC delegation at  58 percent.   Virginia Foxx was the top conservative in the state’s delegation with a rank of 80 percent.  In the Senate, Jim Demint tied with Utah’s Mike Lee as the most conservative with a ranking of 99 percent.  Lindey Graham earned a score of 73 percent.  North Carolina’s Burr scored 77 percent, while Kay Hagan got a score of just 4 percent.

Let’s cruise over to The American Conservative Union’s scorecard to see how the same folks fared.   In the Senate, Burr earned a ranking of 88 for 2012, down from 94 in 2011.  Hagan got a 12 in 2012, up from a 5 in 2011.  DeMint scored a 100 in 2012 and 2011.  Graham got a 92 in 2012, up from 75 in 2011.    In the House, Renee Ellmers got a 91 in 2012, up from 84 in 2011.  Patrick McHenry, at 100, and Sue Myrick, at 96, were ranked as the most conservative in the NC delegation.  For South Carolina, Reps. Scott, Wilson, Duncan, and Gowdy all got rankings of 100 for 2012.  Mick Mulvaney was close behind at 96.   The state’s lone Democrat, Jim Clyburn, earned a 4 for 2012. 

The folks over at RedState are in a bit of a tizzy about the ACU’s rankings.  Erick Erickson, the site’s editor, raises some serious questions:

I had to look twice. Then I looked one more time.

The American Conservative Union (“ACU”) has released its annual scorecard. It is supposed to be a scorecard for a measure of conservatism on Capitol Hill.

So you will be as surprised as I was to find that Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican Leader with a history of undermining conservatives in the Senate, has a 100% score for 2012 — higher, in fact, that either Jim DeMint or Tom Coburn.

I had to laugh.

I have to hope someone on the ACU’s Board has some sense of shame. Chairman Al Cardenas, in his letter introducing the 2012 scorecard, writes, “our ratings have become the most important conservative measuring stick in American politics.”

Not after this.

I guess if ACU wants to ignore that Mitch McConnell

  • voted to keep the Essential Air Service program that conservatives annually ridicule as a waste;
  • voted to continue federal student loan subsidization at a ridiculously low rate;
  • voted for a massive highway increase;
  • voted several times in favor of parliamentary changes in the Senate that undermine conservatives' abilities to stop bad legislation;
  • voted for the debt ceiling increase;
  • voted to keep market distorting energy tax credits and subsidies;
  • voted to let a $41 billion bailout of the post office go to the floor of the Senate; and
  • voted for a host of temporary spending measures designed to kick the can down the road to no end

then I guess you might could possibly consider Mitch McConnell more of a conservative than either Jim DeMint or even Tom Coburn.

But you have to ignore all the ways Mitch McConnell collaborated with Harry Reid to change Senate parliamentary procedure to work against conservatives; ignore a significant portion of fiscal bills in the Senate; and ignore a host of bills designed to keep subsidizing failing enterprises with tax dollars.

This is another reminder of why Heritage Action for America’s scorecard has become the gold standard for measures of conservatism in Congress. They, by the way, give McConnell a 75% rating.

As long as conservative groups continue to entangle themselves with the Republican Party and give Republican leaders undeserved passes, conservatives will keep yanking their own footballs away.

The fact is too many conservative groups and Republicans in Congress think the problem in Washington is Democrats in charge of government and not government itself. Scorecards like this contribute to that problem and keep propping up a status quo that deserves to crumble.

I sure hope someone at ACU is at least a bit embarrassed to pass Mitch McConnell off as a 100% conservative member of Congress.

Erickson hits the nail on the head.  These rankings appear to define conservatism and liberalism in terms of how often you vote with each of the respective parties.  There doesn’t appear to be much consideration about legislative details.  If both parties are pushing bills that increase spending and the size of government to some degree, there’s not a whole lot of authentic conservatism to be found.