Why Your Local Democrat Voted With the President 99.9 Percent of the Time

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 6 2014 12:00 PM

Why Your Local Democrat Voted With the President 99.9 Percent of the Time

103013473-mary-l-landrieu-speaks-during-a-press-conference-during
Mary Landrieu wants the Keystone XL pipeline built, but is made out to be a clone of President Obama.

Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images

Karl Rove, for his sins (as seen by Tea Partiers), is still someone to listen to when it comes to framing elections. He's quite fond of the new CQ vote ratings of Congress, which reveal that the red-state Democrats who want to be re-elected this year "vote with Obama" more than 90 percent of the time.

The four red state Democratic senators running for re-election gave Mr. Obama's policies almost perfect support, led by Louisiana's Mary Landrieu and Alaska's Mark Begich at 97%, followed by North Carolina's Kay Hagan at 96% and Arkansas's Mike Pryor at 90%.
They are now trying to distance themselves from the president. Mr. Begich says he's "disappointed" in the State of the Union address and promises to "push back" if Mr. Obama signs objectionable executive orders. But Dan Sullivan, the former Alaska Natural Resources Commissioner and the likely Republican candidate, can make hay all day long with the senator's voting record.
Advertisement

The Dan Sullivan line is sort of a tell—he's up by only 5 points in a three way primary—but that's not the point. The point is that Rove, who has some say in what independent groups might say on the air, is giddy about the prospect of ads saying Begich "voted with Barack Obama 97 percent of the time." We are destined for another round of "loyalty" ads, which are almost always total bullshit.

OK, they're bipartisan bullshit. In 2008, for example, Barack Obama's campaign faced the stiff challenge of presenting John McCain as a clone of George W. Bush. McCain had broken from Bush on a series of defining issues—taxes, campaign finance, etc. But McCain had frequently voted "with Bush" (i.e., with most Republicans, on bills that the White House was on the record favoring). Thus, voters were constantly reminded, in speeches and ads, that McCain "voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time."

Everybody does this, so it's never in a party's interest to dive into the numbers. Thus, as with ads claiming that so-and-so "voted for higher taxes 329 times," the muck of the legislative process becomes even more opaque. 

To clear it up briefly (it's a bigger topic than can fit in one post): Members of Congress take a lot of votes. During the government shutdown, every Democratic senator voted, repeatedly, to strike anti-Obamacare language from a funding bill. All of those votes are calculated as votes "with Obama," though those votes were more popular than Obama himself. In less heated times, Democrats cast a lot of votes to let uncontroversial nominees take office. These were also votes "with Obama." The vote to put former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel into DOD? "With Obama."

I'm not saying that these calculations are unfair. There are pundits who bemoan how partisan the Democrats and Republicans have become. I think that's useful for voters—they know that Tom Cotton, for example, is more likely to vote the way right-wing Arkansans want than Mark Pryor is. Every incumbent Democrat in 2014 voted for Obamacare, which should be more than enough to convince a conservative to oppose him/her.

But if your local Democrat breaks from the administration in big ways—if, like Joe Manchin, he readily talks about delaying the Obamacare mandate, or, like Mary Landrieu, she wants the Keystone XL pipeline built—these heresies will make up less than 10 percent of their votes.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
History
Sept. 29 2014 11:45 PM The Self-Made Man The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 30 2014 6:00 AM Drive-By Bounty Prudie advises a woman whose boyfriend demands she flash truckers on the highway.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 29 2014 11:56 PM Innovation Starvation, the Next Generation Humankind has lots of great ideas for the future. We need people to carry them out.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 29 2014 11:32 PM The Daydream Disorder Is sluggish cognitive tempo a disease or disease mongering?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.