by Ryan Napoli and Sebastian Hoffmann
At the Republican National Convention in St. Paul on September 4th, presidential candidate John McCain said in his acceptance speech:
“I’ve been called a maverick; someone who marches to the beat of his own drum. (…) I don’t work for a party. I don’t work for a special interest. I don’t work for myself. I work for you.”
Is Sen. McCain really a maverick? The answer is not that simple.
The Almanac of American Politics states about Sen. McCain: “it appears to be his view that members of Congress, like members of the military, should serve the national interest honorably and without reference to political consideration” (Almanac of American Politics 2008, page 95).
A quick look at Congressional statistics, however, gives us a different impression. In 2007 he voted 95% of the time with President George W. Bush and 88.1% of the time with the majority of the Republicans during the current Congress.
These numbers may seem high, yet his 88.1% party voting only makes him the 63rd most party loyal U.S. senator together with Elizabeth Dole and Lindsey Graham. Moreover, Sen. McCain’s support for the president has already been as low as 77% (in 2005) and for the party 67% (in 2001).
Furthermore, according to the Washington Post, Sen. McCain’s “loyalty score” on “the most important bills, nominations and resolutions” since the 109th Congress ranks at the relatively low level of 67.74%. His best-known maverick key vote might have been in 2001 when he was one of two Republican senators to vote in the negative on Bush’s major tax cuts even though the package was extraordinarily popular with the Republican base. As a 2008 presidential candidate Sen. McCain has quit his opposition to the Bush tax cuts though.
Nevertheless, Claremont McKenna College congressional expert Jack Pitney predicts significant differences between a possible McCain administration and president Bush’s: "John McCain's position on the environment, for instance, is very different from that of the Bush administration, and one would expect a lot more attention to issues such as global warming." On the other hand he has regularly supported Republican policies on issues such as defense, social security, and abortion (Almanac of American Politics 2008, page 96).
While in Congress from 2003 - 2006, Sen. McCain’s voting records (as taken from the Almanac of American Politics 2008) support his claim of being a maverick. Based on the National Journal’s ratings on the issues of economic, social, and foreign issues, Sen. McCain on average voted liberal 39.5% of the time and a mere 50.6% of the time with his conservative party. Moreover, Sen. Obama’s average on the same issues in 2005-2006 is 81.5% liberal and only 13.1% conservative. In those same two years McCain’s averages were 40.1% liberal and 53.3 % conservative. Liberal McCain key votes of the 109th Congress include a no on “bar same sex marriage” and a yes on both “pathway to citizenship” and “stem cell research.”
Lesson: There is no clear answer as to whether John McCain is a maverick or not because there are different ways of measuring party loyalty. For instance, one can evaluate his voting record by concentrating on his most important votes or one can take all of his votes into account – his key voting record lets John McCain appear much more liberal than his overall voting record. One can also consider different time periods: in 2007 McCain voted significantly more often with president Bush than in 2005 for example. Moreover all numbers are relative, i.e. without comparisons to other numbers they are meaningless when it comes to interpretation. For instance, McCain’s 88.1% party voting during the current Congress seems to be a high number but in fact 62 senators have an even higher level of loyalty! So all in all, one can say that John McCain has been a “relative maverick” in his political career, even though he became more loyal to the party last year.
Friday, October 31, 2008
by Ryan Napoli and Sebastian Hoffmann
Posted by Kedron Bardwell at 8:17 AM