Franke: Conventional Thinking
by Mark Franke
I gave up watching political conventions decades ago. The never-ending primary season ruined for me the suspense and excitement of the convention floor voting. “The proud state of Ruritania casts 12 votes for her favorite son . . .” Once all the states got through the first ballot, the smoke-filled back rooms kicked into gear and trades were made.
In those days delegates were bound for the first ballot only and then could work the best deal for their state. The vice president pick was usually unknown until late in the convention unless he were an incumbent. And almost always he was chosen to geographically balance the ticket and to help carry battleground states.
There was even drama in advance of the convention as competing state delegations fought it out before the credentials committee. Which delegation to seat also involved wheeling and dealing, a preliminary test of the support for the leading candidates.
Platforms used to matter, as these were written to unify the disparate wings of the party and the special interests, such as they were back then.
The entire production had one goal — to bring forth a ticket and a platform which would appeal to enough voters to win a majority in the Electoral College.
It’s been all downhill since then. Now, low primary turnout and a horde of candidates in the early states are seen as opportunities to rally special-interest groups and the extreme wing of the party. Candidates must appeal to a primary voting plurality only rather than to a general election majority. Sadly, primary voters don’t reward thoughtful statements. Perhaps we are driven by a media of our own creation, one that panders rather than informs. Just compare the current political commentary programs with William F. Buckley’s Firing Line of the 1960’s. Buckley’s erudite, considered and respectful approach to his topic and guest wouldn’t get the ratings today.
The only potential excitement anymore is the announcement of the presumptive nominee’s choice for vice president. Given the insidious political bias and Trump hatred in the national media, I probably should not have been surprised that Kamala Harris, Joe Biden’s VP choice, has been hailed by many of them as a moderate. Moderate compared to whom?
Before going further, I’m going to have to look up the word. I apparently don’t know what “moderate” means anymore. A short search of the internet brought up ideological and nonpartisan organizations which track senators’ voting records either to provide information to the general public or to rally its members in support of — or opposition to — a specific senator. (A word of caution here: Each organization has its own hot-button issues and tracks votes based on those. Not all conservative organizations stress the same issues nor do the liberal ones, let alone those which purport to be nonpartisan.)
Consider the below rankings based on senatorial votes in 2019. As a point of reference, I added Indiana’s two senators’ rankings and self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders’ for comparison. I’ve also reconciled methodologies across the groups for consistency.
- Americans for Democratic Action (liberal) — Harris 100 percent, Sanders 100 percent, Young 5 percent, Braun 0 percent.
- American Conservative Union (conservative) —Harris 0 percent, Sanders 0 percent, Young 68 percent, Braun 95 percent.
- GovTrack (nonpartisan, liberal scale) — Harris 100 percent, Sanders 98 percent, Young 26 percent, Braun 9 percent.
- Heritage Foundation (conservative) — Harris 0 percent, Sanders 0 percent, Young 69 percent, Braun 96 percent.
- Progressive Punch (liberal) — Harris 89 percent, Sanders 82 percent, Young 2 percent, Braun 1 percent.
- Voteview (nonpartisan, liberal rank) — Harris #1, Sanders #4, Young #80, Braun N/A.
Can any sentient being look at these scores and call Harris a moderate? The New York Times apparently can, describing her as a “pragmatic moderate” for good measure. Then again, the Times is in a free fall into ideological hucksterism so this shouldn’t surprise.
Thomas Jefferson famously quipped that given the choice between newspapers without government and government without newspapers, he would choose newspapers. That’s a toss-up at best for me so I think I like this Jefferson quote better:
“The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them, inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.”
Old Tom must have been time-traveling into 2020.
Mark Franke, an adjunct scholar and of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.