Monday, June 16, 2008

Breaking it Down

It's as clear as ever that the Maine media's near-monolithic view of Sen. Collins as a "moderate" or "centrist"--in the face of strong contrary evidence--stems from something other than garden variety sloppiness.

We took a stab at analyzing the myth's strength and persistence last week. And we've spent more than a year debunking the notion that Collins has been some sort of GOP maverick.

But until now, we've never boiled that case down to its simplest, barest essence. So here it is.

MYTH #1: Sure, Collins sides with President Bush now and then. But she sides with the Democrats just as often.

False. The junior senator has voted with the President 81% of the time.

MYTH #2: The 81% number is misleading. The point is, when it comes to the big issues, Collins routinely stands up to her party and the President.

Well, let's see.

Reasonable people can disagree about what to include in a list of the Bush administration's top legislative priorities over the years. But this is a good place to start:

1. Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq [link]

2. Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 [link]

3. Defeating withdrawal time lines in Iraq supplementals--multiple votes [link]

4. Military Commissions Act of 2006 [link]

5. Confirmation of Samuel A. Alito to the Supreme Court [link]

6. Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 [link]

7. Legalizing warantless wiretapping via Protect America Act of 2007 [link]

8. Medicare Part 'D' [link]

9. No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 [link]

10. Energy Policy Act of 2005 [link]

Other strong candidates include the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, retroactive legal immunity for telecom companies and the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court.

Now consider: The junior senator voted with President Bush on all of these.

To put her rock-solid GOP credentials in context: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) opposed the 2001 tax cuts and Medicare Part 'D'. And Sen. Snowe voted for Iraq withdrawal time lines and against the 2003 tax cuts while managing to miss the Military Commissions Act vote.

But when the stakes were highest, President Bush and the GOP got Susan Collins' support literally every single time.

MYTH #3 Even if Collins has cast some party-line votes, it's abundantly clear from her speeches and statements that she's just not a partisan person.

Well, now we're getting into existential territory: If you believe that being a centrist is more about posture than substance--more about what you profess to believe than what you actually do--then okay: Maybe on those terms, Collins is a moderate.

But then the word is meaningless as a political category. And to accept Collins as a moderate on that basis is to accept that the label is more about aura than actions; more akin to an article of faith than an evidence-based conclusion.

Collins-friendly Maine journalists are certainly free to adopt a faith-based approach in the voting booth. But they have an obligation to keep it out of their reporting.

(Footnote: Cynical readers may assume the above list is a cherry-picked assemblage of Collins' Bush-friendly votes rather than a good-faith effort to rank the President's top priorities. I deny this, and encourage such readers to document glaring omissions to the list in comments.

Note, though, that I omitted the Afghanistan use of force resolution and the USA Patriot Act from contention because they were uncontroversial. And I ruled out the administration's Social Security privatization effort because it never congealed into a concrete legislative proposal.)

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