National Journal's ideological ranking of Obama rears its ugly head

As predicted, a dubious ranking of Barack Obama as the Senate's most liberal member is already being used for conservative attacks.

Published February 26, 2008 10:57PM (EST)

When the National Journal, a Washington-based weekly magazine, debuted its 2007 rankings of the most liberal and conservative members of Congress late last month, we were skeptical. The magazine ranked Barack Obama as the most liberal senator for the year, which seemed odd, since it put him ahead of, for example, Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold and a self-described socialist, Vermont's Bernie Sanders. (And the fact that Delaware Sen. Joe Biden was ranked at No. 3 didn't inspire confidence in the accuracy of the rankings, either.)

But as we noted at the time, the National Journal's rankings -- dubious or no -- have been used in the past as the basis for campaign attacks. Sen. John Kerry was ranked as the Senate's most liberal member in 2003, and Republicans didn't hesitate to bring that up when criticizing Kerry as he ran for president.

And despite the obvious common-sense logical questions this latest set of rankings poses, conservatives are already using them against Obama, not to mention those who dare suggest he's anything less than under control of Soviet paymasters. On Monday, at the conservative blog Power Line, Paul Mirengoff put up a post titled "A Centrist With No One to His Left" that criticized the Washington Post's editorial board for its description of Obama. "The often sensible Washington Post editorial board came up with a howler yesterday when it argued that, notwithstanding Barack Obama's ranking by the objective National Journal as the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate in 2007, it is 'not clear' whether Obama is 'a liberal at heart' or 'more of a centrist,' Mirengoff wrote. "It's ... apparent from the National Journal's ratings that no Senator is to Obama's left generally.

"Until this election cycle, a Senator's voting record was always considered the best evidence of his position on the political spectrum; nor were rhetorical flourishes ever counted as countervailing evidence. The Post's willingness to make an exception for Obama constitutes deception, the only question being whether the editors are deceiving themselves as well as their readers."

This is just the first example of the way the National Journal's rankings can and will be used to deny the obvious reality of the Senate's makeup -- if Obama ends up as the Democratic nominee, expect to see more of this as we get closer to November.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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