Immoderate Reporting

Robert Alt

August 1, 2002

When the junior Senator from New York took her seat, I instituted my own personal moratorium against writing on the exploits of the former First Lady. I was doing pretty well until late yesterday, when I received a phone call from a friend directing me to the source of all the news that is fit to spin, There in black-and-white was the AP headline: “Hillary Rodham Clinton Emerges as Moderate: ’She has never been the wild lefty.’” Needless to say, the moratorium ends now.

Ordinarily, to obtain the kind of hard-hitting journalism contained in the AP story, you would need to view the entertainment report on “Good Day Live.” For those with the fortune or good sense to be unfamiliar with latter, let me be perfectly clear: the reporting in the AP story wasn’t bad, it was stunningly bad.

The article begins by suggesting that Hillary Clinton’s “behavior” has belied the “Republican opponents[’]” predictions that she would be a liberal in office. Ordinarily an article would then offer reasonable support for the premise. The AP, however, after offering the anecdotal observation that the Senator formerly known as the First Lady spoke at the centrist Democratic Leadership conference, then proceeded to provide the surest refutation of her moderate status: Senator Clinton received an 85% score on the liberal U.S. Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG) congressional scorecard, and a 95% positive rating from the Americans for Democratic Action. While the AP failed to examine the rankings, a moment’s review provides much needed clarity: archetype-liberal Ted Kennedy only mustered a 75% rating from U.S. PIRG. Senator Clinton’s high approval ratings were based upon such notable actions as voting against the confirmation of Attorney General Ashcroft and Secretary of Interior Norton, voting against the tax cut, voting in favor of maintaining the marriage penalty, voting against school vouchers, and voting in favor of the constitutionally-suspect McCain-Feingold. Indeed, the few votes where she deviated from the desires of the liberal activist groups appear to have occurred predominantly where local parochial interests demanded her to depart from her otherwise lock-step voting.

While the AP didn’t choose to examine any of these votes, it did choose to highlight three other votes to show how Senator Clinton is “bucking” the left. One was the bankruptcy bill, which was cast as counter-left because critics derided the bill as providing insufficient assistance to women owed child support. Aside from the legal reality—a debtor can’t be relieved of his child support obligations in bankruptcy under either the old or new law—Senator Clinton indubitably faced the political reality that as the Senator from a state dominated by the financial services industry, she was nearly obligated to vote for the sensible bill. Then the AP highlighted her support of Senator Lieberman’s bill penalizing the entertainment industry for marketing sex and violence to children. While this may not have been popular with the Clintons’ Lincoln Bedroom visitors, this again looks like basic political opportunism rather than a principled shift to the center. Indeed, supporting Lieberman’s bill permitted her to appeal to upstate New York voters while keeping a solid voting record against First Amendment protection for speech she disfavors typified by her McCain-Feingold vote. The third vote highlighted was a welfare bill, which increased benefits but also had some work requirements. While the bill admittedly does include work requirements, it is difficult to construe increasing welfare benefits as a shift to the right.

The AP then offered testimonials in support of Hillary’s newly coined moderate status by DLC founder Al From and former Congressman Fazio. I suppose if Vic Fazio says that Senator Clinton is a moderate, then she really must be a moderate. To its credit, the AP did include a couple of quotes from conservative sources before offering Mike McCurry’s observation that Hillary and Bill Clinton share similar centrist messages because “their thinking is intertwined like DNA strands.” This is a disturbing message on so many levels, but suffice it to say that I would not use the term “DNA” and “Bill Clinton” in the same sentence if I were Mr. McCurry.

Ultimately Senator Clinton’s voting record, her previous national health care proposal, and her Chicken Little-like ranting about “vast right wing conspiracy” do not make her a liberal according to AP because she has “cast herself as a New Democrat.” Contrary to the AP’s suggestion, however, being a moderate takes more than self-identification. Had the AP actually taken the time to review her votes rather than relying on anecdotes and adulation regarding her political posturing, they could have offered a genuine observation: Senator Clinton’s voting record is not moderate, and neither is she.

Robert Alt is an Adjunct Fellow of the John M. Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University, Ohio.