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SPINNING KERRY! Kerry isn't the Senate's most liberal. And it's easy to explain that weird vote:

NOT THAT LIBERAL: Do pundits ever tell the truth? When Kerry picked Edwards to be his VP, the RNC pimped a pleasing tale—Kerry and Edwards were the first- and fourth-most liberal members of the Senate. Mainstream pundits—always pleased to showcase their skills at recitation—have endlessly passed on the claim.

Tuesday morning, on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, Jonah Goldberg joined the crowd. A caller insisted that Kerry was not the Senate’s most liberal member. Goldberg praised the National Journal, which he correctly cited as the source of the claim:

GOLDBERG: Oh, I didn’t know that your judgment of who’s a liberal was the standard by which the entire media establishment should then hew. The fact is, is that we rely on certain nonpartisan sources—and partisan sources—to determine these sorts of things. The fact is, National Journal—which is indisputably one of the most respected journalistic operations going on in Washington—they’re the ones who have been calling [Kerry] the most liberal senator in Washington.
Our advice? If Goldberg is so impressed by the Journal, maybe he ought to try reading it. On July 10, the Journal’s Richard E. Cohen (not the Post columnist) tried to explain the pleasing facts which so many scribes have been peddling. Are Kerry and Edwards really first and fourth most liberal? That rating is based on calendar year 2003, when both senators—campaigning for the White House—missed large numbers of the 62 votes the Journal used for its tabulations. (Kerry missed 37 of the 62 votes; Edwards missed 22.) Writing in the rag Goldberg loves, Cohen laid out the big picture:
COHEN: The bigger picture presents a more nuanced view of the two senators on the Democratic presidential ticket. Since joining the Senate in 1985, Kerry has compiled a “lifetime average” composite liberal score of 85.7 in NJ's vote ratings. Ten other current senators have a lifetime composite liberal score that is higher than Kerry’S. (See NJ, 3/6/04, p. 679.) Meanwhile, Edwards, who first joined the Senate in 1999, has a lifetime composite liberal score of 75.7, a number that puts him in the moderate wing of his party.
“The bigger picture presents a more nuanced view?” Richard E. Cohen, repeat after us: In fact, the bigger picture shows that Kerry and Edwards are not first and fourth most liberal! In fact, ten current senators have more liberal lifetime voting records than Kerry. And how crazily liberal is Edwards? Here are the Journal’s annual rankings since he arrived in the Senate:
John Edwards:
1999: 31st most liberal senator
2000: 19th most liberal senator
2001: 35th most liberal senator
2002: 40th most liberal senator
2003: 4th most liberal senator
When pundits call Edwards the “fourth most liberal,” they are cherry-picking his rank from one year—a year in which he missed more than a third of the votes used to make the tabulations.

But none of this will stop mainstream pundits from reciting the RNC’s treasured tale. Pundits like to be good little boys, and they especially like to recite. For example, here was Bob Novak on yesterday’s Crossfire. James Carville dozed and snored as the propaganda was pimped once again:

NOVAK: Senator Pryor, you’re a moderate, just about in the middle of the Senate ideologically. Your ticket is the most liberal member of the Senate, Kerry, the fourth most liberal, Edwards. Do you check your principles at the door when you support a ticket like that?
Civics books tell your children that the press exists to keep them informed. So where can American children go to learn the truth about their “press corps?” And where can American voters go for real facts about Kerry/Edwards?

SPINNING THAT VOTE: Then there’s the reigning star of the Boston Convention—Kerry’s vote on that $87 billion to fund the troops in Iraq. Before we watch the Hardball gang clown about the vote last night, let’s look in once again on Joe Klein, writing a pseudo-psychiatric profile of Kerry in this week’s Time.

Poor Joe! He “has a theory” about Kerry’s personality—in his piece, the doctor is very much IN—but he still can’t figure out that vote on the $87 billion. He’s tried, but it’s over his head. Here’s the first of several references to the troubling vote:

KLEIN: Kerry is an oddly elusive character for a national politician. There are nagging questions about his steadiness, especially on issues located at the jittery intersection of politics and policy. His contradictory votes on Iraq—giving the President the authority to go to war, then voting against the $87 billion supplemental appropriation to pay for the occupation—have been at the heart of the Republican attacks against him this year.
Klein’s recitation is perfect; Kerry’s votes were “contradictory.” But if that’s true, what can we say about President Bush? After all, Bush decided to go to war in Iraq, then threatened to veto the $87 billion bill to funds the troops, helping bring it down to defeat the first time the Senate voted on it. Was that conduct “contradictory” too? This must be the most obvious question on earth, but typists like Klein aren’t going to raise it. Lazy, inept and deeply programmed, Manchurian typists—typists like Klein—only produce Approved Press Corps Scripts. When Kerry votes against one form of the $87 billion bill, that is puzzling, disturbing, “contradictory.” When Bush helps defeat another form of the bill, that is ignored, never mentioned, quite acceptable. Readers, it’s all about typing up Approved Scripts, then heading off to swish cocktail parties where other flunkies tell Joe Klein how brilliant and savvy he is.

Yes, President Bush initiated a war, then worked to defeat the spending bill that would have supported the troops! There was, of course, nothing wrong with that conduct; Bush favored a different form of the bill, and he was working to pass it. But guess what? Kerry also favored certain forms of the bill, and if the Senate had voted with him on his “no” vote, they would have been forced to craft a new bill that might have been more to his liking. There was never a chance—never a chance—that the troops weren’t going to be funded. Klein, of course, understands that full well. But then, Klein also loves his God. Like the rest of his hapless cohort, he bows to the great God of Scripts.

And yes, let’s face it, all over the press, your Pundit Corps works off hard scripts. You can call them Stepford; you can call them Manchurian; but you surely can’t call them unreliable. Once a Press Corps Script is approved, they’ll recite that script to the death. Which leads us to Chris Matthews’ simpering gang on MSNBC last night. When Howard Fineman mentioned that $87 billion, the panel swung into Full Clowning Mode (see Wednesday’s night’s 10 o’clock hour). Laughing hard and misserving the public, they happily rattled the script:

JOE SCARBOROUGH: That’s John Kerry’s big weakness. We’re going to see the clip time and again where he—they’re going to show that clip time and again where he said, “I voted for it the first time, before I voted against it.”

MATTHEWS: How do you explain that quote? “I voted for the money to support the troops before I voted against it?” I don’t know what that means!

ANDREA MITCHELL: It’s nuanced!

[Raucous group laughter]

SCARBOROUGH: Ha! Ha! It’s nuanced!

MATTHEWS: It’s very nuanced!

SCARBOROUGH: That’s a great way to spin it!

FINEMAN: [Kerry] was trying actually to be mordantly funny and comment on the process, but it’s impossible to explain it away.

But of course, it isn’t impossible to explain Kerry’s vote; explaining the vote is blindingly simple. Here we go: There were two different bills to fund the troops, and John Kerry—just like George Bush—supported one bill and opposed the other! How hard is that to explain? But Matthews’ panel raucously laughed as they enjoyed their pleasing script. “What was he trying to say, Mr. Mayor?” Scarborough said to hapless, inept Willie Brown, former San Francisco mayor. Brown was there as a Democrat pol, but he gave a ridiculous, uninformed “explanation,” further misleading MSNBC viewers. And all the panel continued to laugh as Matthews went to a break.

Readers, have you ever seen a panel on ESPN treat a football game with such disrespect? Sports writers take their subject seriously, but your national national “press corps” clowns and laughs as they make a joke of another White House election, the thing they seem to do best.

APPLE PIE: At the Times, hapless Johnny Apple knows the script too. How does an earth-born human being manage to get this inept?

APPLE: Mr. Kerry's Vietnam heroism may be a much easier sell than his views on the war in Iraq, if only because it is more clear-cut. Having cast several votes on several aspects of the current conflict, he is easy to portray as a straddler, a flip-flopper or a hair-splitter. Having said he would have taken a more international approach to the Iraqi problem, he finds Mr. Bush moving the same way.
Readers, did you follow the logic? According to Apple, Bush is moving in Kerry’s direction—but Kerry is somehow the flipper, the straddler! Johnny Apple knows the script. And he’s too fat and lazy not to type it.

SEQUEL—EXPLAINING SUCH VOTES CAN BE EASY: It’s easy to explain votes like Kerry’s—as long as it’s in an Official Press Script. Later last night, after Edwards spoke, Tom Brokaw was talking about former Georgia senator Max Cleland. In 2002, Cleland was defeated for re-election, in part because of a vote he cast against creation of the Homeland Security Department. Of course, Cleland favored creation of such a department—but he favored one form of the bill to create the department, and he opposed another. Did Brokaw find that “impossible to explain?” Did he lie, as Matthews did, saying, “I don’t know what that means?” Of course not! The corps is Officially Sympathetic to Cleland, so here’s the script Brokaw rattled off as he spoke with Senator Zell Miller:

BROKAW: Tomorrow night, John Kerry will be introduced by one of your former colleagues, Max Cleland, who was the senator from Georgia with you when you were both in that chamber. He was defeated, of course. Republicans ran ads against him because in the initial stages he voted against the Homeland Security bill because he had some questions about the funding for it. Do you think Max Cleland, who was gravely wounded in Vietnam, was treated fairly by the Republicans?
Note how pundits discuss a pol they favor. Brokaw explained Max Cleland’s vote—the very thing Matthews’ panel refused to do for Kerry. After all, Kerry voted against the bill at issue because he had some questions about the funding for it. But—lying in the face of his viewers—Matthews said he didn’t know what Kerry could have meant by his now-famous statement, and Fineman said the statement is impossible to explain. Each of these statements is utterly bogus, as Brokaw so deftly showed us. It’s easy to explain a vote like Kerry’s—depending on what’s in the script.

SMILE-A-WHILE: How inept is your national press corps? The doctor was IN as Klein typed his personality profile of Kerry. Why is Kerry so weirdly aloof? It can all be explained, Klein says. Eureka! The doctor had figured it out. Kerry’s just “ a proper Bostonian:”

KLEIN: Eventually Kerry did mention [his sister] Diana's situation in some speeches but only after his sister began to talk about it publicly. That confirmed something I had long suspected: Kerry is a very proper Bostonian. His apparent aloofness is actually an antique form of New England propriety. His reluctance to wear his religious faith on his sleeve is part of this ethos, as is his formal, hortatory Sunday-sermon speaking style. A strong sense of honor comes with the territory, a discomfort with swagger and braggadocio. “I once was with Kerry watching Bob Dole on television,” recalls David Wade, an aide who is usually found in Kerry's immediate proximity. “Someone was asking Dole about how he was wounded in World War II. Dole wouldn't do it. He said, 'You just don't talk about those things.’” Kerry, who was wounded three times in Vietnam, nodded his head vigorously, as Wade remembers, and said, “That's how it is.”
Did you follow the reasoning there? You can tell that Kerry is a “proper Bostonian” because he reacts to things in the same way as Dole—Dole, who grew up in Russell, Kansas! Yes, that is what this paragraph says, and no, you can’t parse the nonsense away. But so what? Klein typed it up, then handed it in. An editor thought it made good, solid sense. Then he and Klein went to a party.