Politico's Harris and VandeHei misrepresented Harris' own interview with Obama

››› ››› MATTHEW BIEDLINGMAIER

The Politico's Jim VandeHei and John F. Harris claimed in an article that "[w]hen pressed on a voting record that the National Journal called the most liberal in the Senate, [Sen. Barack] Obama dismissed ideological labels as 'old politics.' " However, when Harris asked Obama about the National Journal's vote ratings in a previous interview, Obama initially responded by criticizing the Journal's methodology; Obama referred to "old politics" moments later in response to Harris' question about whether he is "comfortable with the liberal label."

In a March 18 article, Politico executive editor Jim VandeHei and editor-in-chief John F. Harris reported that "[w]hen pressed on a voting record that the National Journal called the most liberal in the Senate, [Sen. Barack] Obama dismissed ideological labels as 'old politics.' " However, when Harris asked Obama about the National Journal's 2007 vote ratings during the February 11 Politico/WJLA interview to which VandeHei and Harris were presumably referring, Obama initially responded by criticizing the methodology the Journal used. Obama referred to "old politics" moments later, when Harris asked Obama whether he is "comfortable with the liberal label."

During the February 11 Politico/WJLA interview, Harris said to Obama, "Senator, you were ranked recently by National Journal as having the most liberal voting record ... in 2007," and then asked Obama to respond to a reader who wondered whether Obama's "liberal record should give us confidence that you can reach across the aisle and get things done in Washington." Obama responded by criticizing the Journal's methodology, asserting: "Well, first of all, not to grouse against the National Journal, but let me give you an example of why I was rated the most liberal was because I wanted an office of public integrity that stood outside of the Senate, and outside of Congress, to make sure that you've got an impartial eye on ethics problems inside of Congress. Now, I didn't know that it was a liberal or Democratic issue. I thought that was a good government issue that a lot of Republicans would like to see. So that's the problem with some of these ratings -- how they score things. It uses categories that I think don't make sense to a lot of Americans." As Media Matters for America has documented, among the other votes Obama took that purportedly earned him the Journal's "most liberal senator" label were those to implement the 9-11 Commission's homeland security recommendations, provide more children with health insurance, expand federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, and maintain a federal minimum wage.

It was in response to this question from Harris, asked moments later, that Obama referred to "old politics": "Are you comfortable with the liberal label?" Obama replied, "This is what I would call old politics. This is the stuff we're trying to get rid of. Because the problem is, when we start breaking down into conservative and liberal, and we've got a bunch of set predispositions ... Those old categories don't work, and they're preventing us from solving them problems."

From the Politico's transcript of the February 11 Politico/WJLA interview with Obama:

JOHN HARRIS: Senator, you were ranked recently by National Journal as having the most liberal voting record as having the most liberal voting record [sic] in 2007. That prompts a question from Politico reader Don Mousch (sp.?) or [sic] Norwell (sp.), Mass. He wants to know what they [sic] liberal record should give us confidence that you can reach across the aisle and get things done in Washington.

OBAMA: Well, first of all, not to grouse against the National Journal, but let me give you an example of why I was rated the most liberal was because I wanted an office of public integrity that stood outside of the Senate, and outside of Congress, to make sure that you've got an impartial eye on ethics problems inside of Congress. Now, I didn't know that it was a liberal or Democratic issue. I thought that was a good government issue that a lot of Republicans would like to see. So that's the problem with some of these ratings -- how they score things. It uses categories that I think don't make sense to a lot of Americans.

LEON HARRIS (WJLA): Well, are you proud of that designation? To be known as the most liberal voting senator?

OBAMA: I don't think you heard what I just said, which is that the designations don't make sense

JOHN HARRIS: Michael Dukakis said, "Yes, I'm proud to be a liberal." Bill Clinton said, "No we can't cast ourselves as liberals." Are you comfortable with the liberal label?

OBAMA: This is what I would call old politics. This is the stuff we're trying to get rid of. Because the problem is, when we start breaking down into conservative and liberal, and we've got a bunch of set predispositions, whether it's on gun control, or its' [sic] on health care, any attempt to do health care is socialized medicine. Any discuss [sic] about taxes ends up being, are you raising them or lowering them, as the opposed to the question I ask -- are we raising them for high income individuals that can afford it, and lowering them for lower income people who really need help. Those old categories don't work, and they're preventing us from solving them problems.

From the March 18 Politico article:

Truth be told, Obama and his most fervent supporters often have acted as if he could end some of the most persistent divisions in American life by proclamation.

When pressed on racial questions, Obama usually invoked his own biography and achievements and appealed to America's hunger for unity. When pressed on a voting record that the National Journal called the most liberal in the Senate, Obama dismissed ideological labels as "old politics."

The [Rev. Jeremiah] Wright uproar showed that there is no way to sneak race and ideology through customs, blinding skeptics with his life story and phrase-making. The candidate will need to address these volatile topics directly.

But this was becoming clear even before the Wright story caught fire.

Network/Outlet
The Politico
Person
Jim VandeHei
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
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