In my last post, I mentioned the National Journal rating of Obama as most liberal Senator of 2007. Naturally, Obama supporters find this rating inconvenient, and have challenged its accuracy. For example, Crooks and Liars claims that Obama is actually among the least liberal Democratic senators. (Their claim is based entirely on a stale link, so there’s nothing to rebut.) They also point out that in 2004 National Journal rated Kerry and Edward the most liberal senators. (National Journal’s old ratings are subscription only, so I’m taking their word for it, but in any case, it’s not hard to imagine that Democrats move left when running for president.)
Anyway, this made me wonder what the Americans for Democratic Action scorecard said. ADA is indisputably liberal, and is well-known for its scorecards. Indeed it has the distinction of being the first organization to compile them.
(ASIDE: Economists Groseclose, Levitt (famous for his book Freakonomics), and Snyder have shown how to normalize ADA ratings so they can be compared between years and chambers. The long-existence of ADA scorecards allows them to track the politics of the US Congress over fifty years. Also, Groseclose and Milyo showed how to use the normalized ADA ratings to infer a quantitative measure of media bias (pdf), in an article that made a big stir in the blogosphere a few years ago.)
So what does ADA say about Obama’s voting record? Good question. I was unable to find information on any ADA scorecard more recent than 2005, when they gave Obama a perfect score. Today, it seems that not only has ADA discontinued their venerable scorecard, but they have erased all mention of it from their web site. Every external link I found (for example) to ADA scorecards is now 404, and a search on their web site returns zero (!) hits on the term “scorecard”.
When did this happen? (At least one chapter hasn’t gotten the word yet, with a stale link to ADA’s web site.) Judging from the Internet Archive, it happened some time in early 2007. (I realize this makes me pretty slow on the uptake.)
More importantly, why? If they had simply stopped doing them, they wouldn’t have taken steps to erase their old scorecards so thoroughly. (Even some external sites that purportedly once held copies are 404 (linked here).) It strikes me that they must have decided that the existence of their scorecards was counter-productive to their aims, despite the attention their particular organization received for them.
Returning to my original point, it’s not hard to see how they might have decided that. Any centrist, conservative, libertarian, or non-partisan ratings can be dismissed as right-wing propaganda, but the ADA’s scorecard (being indisputably liberal, as well as the oldest) cannot. Liberals, unlike most political stripes, don’t like to be labeled liberals, because it makes it harder for them to be elected, and ADA was doing them no favor.
I find it a pity, and not just because of the slight political advantage the ADA’s scorecards gave my side. ADA’s scorecards are a venerable institution, and it’s a shame to see them go. Moreover, the economic work using the ADA ratings is really cool, but it’s less useful now. The methods could presumably be applied to another organization’s scorecards, but we lose the fifty years of perspective.
UPDATE: I’m embarrassed to admit that it did not occur to me to look in the Internet Archive, but a reader suggested it to me. The Archive last saw the main scorecard page on April 9, 2007. Obama did indeed get a perfect score for 2005, as did many Democrats. It appears the ADA compiled a scorecard for 2006, but it wasn’t archived. Every link on that page (that I checked before getting bored) has since gone stale, but most of them are in the Archive.
I’ve edited the post to incorporate this.