March 17, 2004

The Politics of Legislative Votes

First, it was Helms-Burton, and now the supplemental appropriations bills for Iraq and Afghanistan:

Mr. Kerry added, "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it," referring to an amendment he supported that would have rescinded some tax cuts to finance the war.

This is utterly remarkable for the following reason: the Bush campaign and its allies have made a big deal about various votes Kerry has made in the past over defense and intelligence spending. However, some of the votes in question were either votes on amendments that failed, or preliminary votes, or a variety of other procedural votes that occur in the Senate constantly. Further, Senators will often votes against a bill that is going to pass because of appearance, even if they might support the bill, or part of the bill. It is extremely difficult at time to obtain clear intent from a legislative record: it isn't as black and white as it seems, but legislators are always open to criticism when they run because of the paper trail of various votes that the public often does not understand. On balance, the vote that normally is fair game is the final vote. And defenders of Kerry have rightly pointed that out.

However, like with the Cuba vote, Kerry is now vitiating that entire argument by picking and choosing which vote he made in a sequence of votes to be the vote that allegedly reveals his true intentions and support. This is unwise because if he is going to cherry pick which vote he wishes to highlight, his critics are going to be emboldened to do the same. Further, it re-enforces the image that the Bush campaign wishes to foster: that Kerry has at least two positions on every issue.

From the position of an analyst of elections and campaigns, I find this a rather odd move, to say the least, on Kerry's part. Especially when a NYT poll recently stated that 41% of the public has not yet formed an opinion on Kerry. he is playing right into the Bush camp's strategy: which is define Kerry as a waffler who lacks the conviction needed to lead.

Here are the poll numbers in question:

For Kerry, 28 percent had a favorable view, 29 percent had an unfavorable view and 41 percent were undecided.

Source: NYT

Hat tip: e-mail from Patrick Ruffini at the Official Blog.

Posted by Steven Taylor at March 17, 2004 08:46 AM | TrackBack

"I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it. . . ."

When I read that -- as his *defense* -- I could not believe that he and/or his handlers actually put any thought into it all.

What was he *thinking* ?

Posted by: Steven L. at March 17, 2004 09:35 AM

Maybe he'll also reveal how he actually voted for tax cuts and a partial birth abortion ban before he voted against it.

Posted by: mark at March 17, 2004 10:27 AM

It is extremely difficult at time to obtain clear intent from a legislative record:

That can be true to a point. But when you have 30 years of random and often contradictory voting the totality of the votes say something about the lege's character.

(And in this case) When Kerry's words don't seem to support any clear positions it especially damning.

But to the larger point, one could argue the lege voting record is the only thing that should be looked it. It is fine to talk a good game but in the end, the vote is all that matters.

Pols love to talk a good game then vote in a different manner later. When you cut to the chase, the lege does not represent me by making speeches, he represents me by voting.

Posted by: Paul at March 17, 2004 08:56 PM
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