Reporters have been comparing the two major vice presidential nominees and noticing their similarities. Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman are both experienced, sober, dignified, free of Clintonian sex appeal. But the media coverage is oh so different. Dick Cheney is a conservative, and that's bad. Joe Lieberman is a conservative, and that's good.
Does that make sense? No, but that's what someone left in a room with only media coverage to guide him might conclude. As a congressman, Dick Cheney's American Conservative Union rating was a 90. That, according to the media glossary, makes him "hard right," or "far right" or "surprisingly out of the mainstream." As a senator, Joe Lieberman's American Conservative Union rating was almost the opposite: 19 percent. In the media's eyes this makes him a "moderate," a "centrist," and often even a "conservative" Democrat. A Time website headline called him "Middle-of-the-Road Joe." If a 19-percent conservative rating is the middle of the road, there's a really fat right lane on our political highway.
Look at the liberal Americans for Democratic Action ratings system. Lieberman earned a lifetime "Liberal Quotient" of 77, six points more liberal than Dick Gephardt. Question: If Lieberman's a "conservative," does that make Gephardt "far right?" In 1999, Lieberman was assessed 95 percent from ADA, making him one of the Senate's eight most liberal senators. That year he also received a fat zero in the ACU conservative ratings.
So how in blazes does Lieberman's lifetime conservative rating of 19 percent make him a "conservative Democrat?" A reading of the last few years of ideological ratings leads one to conclude that, in fact, there are no conservative Democrats in the Senate. A tour of the latest "Almanac of American Politics" (for 1997-1998) shows that only Sen. Ernest Hollings got a single ACU rating above 25 (a 33 in 1998). Bob Graham, another Democrat the media like to tell us is "moderate" or "conservative," landed in the single digits.
Take a look at some issues. Cheney supports the pro-life position, and because of that Bryant Gumbel reports, "Cheney's politics are of the hard-right variety. He's opposed to abortion and favors both capital punishment and school prayer." Conversely, Lieberman is 100-percent pro-abortion -- pro-partial birth, pro-federal funding, the works. But Gumbel's colleague Steve Kroft announced from the anchor chair that "Lieberman is noted for his moderate voting record and high moral standards." If you're Forrest Sawyer on MSNBC, that voting record makes Lieberman "socially conservative."
NBC's "Today" host Matt Lauer caricatured Cheney as a villainous character that could be tagged as "Anti Man." He called Cheney's record "anti-affirmative action, anti-abortion, anti-gun control, anti-equal rights" and asked "how does George Bush portray him as a compassionate conservative?"
But when Lieberman's name was leaked, "Today" turned to Gore cheerleader Claire Shipman for a completely different spin. She claimed Lieberman was "an orthodox Jew and a conservative Democrat." On MSNBC's "Imus in the Morning," Shipman said "He is a conservative Democrat ... but, you know, Gore is a pretty conservative Democrat." Gore's ACU average in the Senate was a 10. The National Taxpayers Union gave him the worst tax-and-spend record in both 1989 and 1990. (Does this make Ted Kennedy "far right," too?) Eight years after the initial "conservative" masquerade, pliant reporters like Shipman are still attempting to fuzz over the obvious when it comes to Gore. It's only to be expected, I guess, that they would do so with his running mate.
Then there are those budget votes. Sitting in as host of CBS's "Face the Nation," Gloria Borger asked Bush strategist Karl Rove about Cheney: "But Bush is portraying himself as a compassionate conservative. If he's running with somebody who voted for all the Reagan budget cuts, for example, wouldn't that prove a bit of a problem?" Yet Lieberman, who rarely sees a spending binge he can't endorse, is being portrayed by numerous reporters as "a fiscal conservative."
The real fiscal conservatives are less than impressed. The National Taxpayers Union announced that in the last eight years, Lieberman was awarded six "F" grades and two "D" marks. In 1999, Lieberman posted a "pro-taxpayer" score of 8 -- or a rating worse than liberals such as Paul Wellstone, Barbara Boxer or Charles Schumer. (More far rightists?)
How you can be a fiscal conservative and one of the biggest spenders in Congress is an interesting quandary. How you can be touted as a social conservative and be loved by Kate Michelman is another intriguing question. If Joseph Lieberman is a conservative, what does that tell you about the ideological compass of the national press? If he is a conservative, there really must be a vast right-wing conspiracy.