NBC’s Tom Brokaw referred to Election Night as a “seismic shift”. CNN’s Judy Woodruff said, “call it what you will. A Republican a tidal wave, or a blowout. You've probably heard all the metaphors by now”. Columnist Ann Coulter wrote, “The Republican juggernaut could not be stopped. Democrats may be forced to shut down operations as a party and re-enter politics under a different name.”
Well, maybe. Maybe not.
But a big change is happening within the Democratic Party.
Representative Nancy Pelosi of California is expected to become the next House Minority Leader -- but first she had to fight off an early challenge from Rep. Martin Frost of Texas, and she’s still facing a late challenge from Harold Ford.
Frost declared on Nov. 7: “I believe our party must occupy the center and not move farther to the left.”
CNN.com said he was drawing “an apparent contrast with the more liberal Pelosi.” The Washington Post described Pelosi as a “liberal”, but called Frost “a moderate Democrat”. And FOXnews.com reported, “Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, No. 2 in the party and a well-known liberal, is up against Rep. Martin Frost of Texas, a moderate”.
Frost made one question moot on Nov. 8. “It is clear to me that Nancy Pelosi has the votes of a majority of the caucus.” He said. “I intend to support her for Democratic leader in next week's election.”
But another question remains: How moderate are Ford, called “an African-American from the party's moderate wing” by the New York Post, and Frost?
The non-partisan website Vote-smart.org tracks congressional votes. Pelosi, Frost and Ford all voted against President Bush’s tax cut in March of 2001. That bill passed, and will lower income taxes by an estimated $958 billion over 10 years.
All three voted against a bill that would have made it a federal crime to harm a fetus while committing any of 68 federal offenses. That bill also passed.
All three voted against giving the President Trade Promotion Authority. That passed, by only one vote.
All three voted against allowing drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
All three were given perfect scores during the 2000 Congress by the National Education Association.
There are some differences, of course. Ford voted for a bill to make it illegal to attempt cloning for medical research, while Frost and Pelosi voted against the measure.
Based on ratings from the pro-business Chamber of Commerce, Pelosi is the more liberal than Ford. She scored a 42, while he earned a 70. That number alone doesn’t make him a moderate, though. Rep. Lois Capps of California earned a 75, and as George Skelton wrote in the Los Angeles Times on Jan. 15, 1998, “Lois Capps is a liberal.”
There are times in politics, and political reporting, when labels work well. Jesse Helms is conservative and Ted Kennedy is liberal, and both would probably describe themselves as such.
But labels should be considered in context. Being slightly more conservative than a staunch liberal doesn’t necessarily make one a moderate. Journalists should take a close look at the record before announcing where a candidate stands.