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Mismeasure of a Conservative

Attempting to demonstrate the Tea Party’s extremism last week, the Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank asked, “Who’s a Real Conservative?” comparing the American Conservative Union ratings of recently ousted Republicans like Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Bob Bennett of Utah with past GOP leaders. When taken to task by Tea Partiers at a town hall meeting last spring, Sen. Lindsey Graham reminded the audience he had a lifetime ACU rating of 90.

During the 2008 GOP presidential primaries, John McCain would tout his 82 rating by the ACU, and yet most conservatives would put the senator in the same squishy category as Graham, a dishonor the Tea Party now extends to the likes of Republicans like Murkowski and Bennett. In 2008, the ACU listed Graham as one of only 20 “Senate Standouts,” made up of the Senate’s allegedly most conservative members. Mind you, Graham received this honor just one year after he helped spearhead “Comprehensive Immigration Reform,” or amnesty for illegal aliens, considered by many conservatives the senator’s worst offense to date, earning him the name “Grahamnesty.” When Graham attempted to cozy up to those concerned about illegal immigration in August by raising concerns about so-called “anchor baby” citizenship, conservative leader David Keene wasn’t buying it, remarking “This is Lindsey Graham-standing.” For the record, Keene is the nearly three-decade chairman of the ACU.

Milbank, Graham, and others are now asking “What’s wrong with the Tea Party?” Tea Partiers and apparently even David Keene should be asking what’s wrong with the ACU rating.

What Milbank, Graham, and others now consider Tea Party extremism is actually a long overdue reassessment of what it means to be a conservative. Using the ACU rating as his guide, Milbank writes: “I discovered that if conservatives were to employ the purity standards they applied to Murkowski and Bennett, they would have rejected many, if not most, of the leading Republican lawmakers of the past 40 years.” Milbank is correct, but ignores the much larger fact that these Republican lawmakers haven’t accomplished squat in the last 40 years. Conservative rhetoric has abounded. So has government. That the Tea Party might be waking up to this fact could be a new day in American politics–however dark it may seem for establishment Republicans long accustomed to camouflaging their big government records with political accoutrements like ACU ratings. To its credit, the Tea Party seems unmoved by how many times a politician has claimed to be pro-life, pro-gun or pro-war so long as he’s been pro-big government. Republicans love touting their ACU rating. The Tea Party now touts their TARP vote.

The shortfalls of the ACU ratings aren’t peculiar to that organization and other, similar ratings can be just as deceiving. For example, in 2009 the Chamber of Commerce released its congressional scorecard, which gave Rep. Ron Paul–arguably the most free-market member of Congress–the lowest ranking of any Republican. The Chamber also gave Sen. Jim DeMint–another solid free market champion–a similar low rating. According to the Chamber’s 2009 rankings, Republicans Paul and DeMint are less pro-business than Democrats Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. Why? Both Paul and DeMint did not vote for President Obama’s nearly $800 billion stimulus, which allegedly was a “pro-business” bill, according to the Chamber.

During Kentucky’s U.S. Senate Republican primary this year, candidate Trey Grayson tried to paint his opponent and eventual nominee Rand Paul as somehow insufficiently pro-life due to Paul’s states’ rights solution to abortion, or overturning Roe v. Wade--something virtually all pro-lifers have long championed. This ruse worked well for a time, even fooling evangelical leader James Dobson, who first endorsed Grayson and then switched his support to Paul after realizing he’d been tricked.

Similarly, how does the ACU’s ratings system treat discrepancies where otherwise conservative Republicans might be penalized for simply holding a position equally conservative but opposite to that of the GOP at large? For example, would Rand’s preference for states’ rights over federal solutions to the abortion issue be considered a negative? After all, conservatives have long been strong supporters of the Tenth Amendment. Is this position any less pro-life? How about Republicans who refuse to support undeclared wars, which, by definition, are unconstitutional? Are these GOP champions of the Constitution, however small in numbers, being penalized as somehow less conservative?

Using ranking standards that ignore these and other significant variances, which often call into question what actually is and isn’t “conservative,” should at least raise serious questions about the validity of those standards. Simply put, would a future Senator Rand Paul somehow be rated as less conservative than, say, Lindsey Graham? Are Ron Paul and Jim DeMint actually less pro-business than Barack Obama?

Conservatives typically recognize their own, and no ratings system is going to fool most into believing that men like Graham or McCain have magically become part of the club. Now that the Tea Party continues to expand its critique to even more establishment Republicans, including those once considered solidly conservative, we will likely be hearing even more about these ratings though they essentially mean nothing now–if they ever did.

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32 Comments (Open | Close)

32 Comments To "Mismeasure of a Conservative"

#1 Comment By Kyle K On October 12, 2010 @ 8:46 pm

Thank you for this thoughtful piece Jack! But facts are facts and Rand Paul while good on economic issues is too the left of the democrats when it comes to foreign policy and social issues. A man who says he sees nothing wrong with marijuana, which kills thousands of people every year and views the state sponsor of terror Iran having a nuculear weapon as no big deal is by definition no conservative!

#2 Comment By Libertarian Jerry On October 12, 2010 @ 10:18 pm

The Conservative of today is not the same conservative of 50 or 60 years ago. In fact,true conservatives who believe in the strict construction of the Constitution and limited government with few foreign adventures are probably more comfortable with the Libertarians. The current modern day Republican party has accepted Socialism in America. All 10 planks to the Communist Manifesto have been put into place in America. When modern day Republicans have gained power in Washington, they have done very little to deconstruct or dismantle the Federal behemoth. The question to ask is, if in the upcoming elections, the conservative socialists oust the liberal socialists won’t we still have socialism?

#3 Comment By ian sutherland On October 12, 2010 @ 11:34 pm


#4 Comment By TB On October 13, 2010 @ 6:05 am

@Kyle K: “marijuana, which kills thousands of people every year”? Where’d you get THAT from?!
Besides, assuming that you take an economic stance according to which the federal government should stay out of the economy as much as possible, and assuming also that you believe in limited government and “returning to the Constitution,” how exactly do you justify a multi-billion-dollar federal “war on drugs”?

#5 Comment By Kyle K On October 13, 2010 @ 10:10 am


That statistic is from the DEA and former drug czar and conservative Barry McCaffrey. Under the constitution, it is one of the enumerated powers that the federal government can wage war, including the war on drugs. And at under 30 billion dollars a year, its quite a bargain to keep our children free from the scourge of drugs.

#6 Comment By Jimbo On October 13, 2010 @ 10:56 am

Under that premise the FedGov can just proclaim all their unconstitutional actions a war. They can fund anything or justify any level of taxation by declaring a war on underfunded projects. A Healthcare War, A Bailout War, it never stops.

#7 Comment By petey On October 13, 2010 @ 11:54 am

“That statistic is from the DEA and former drug czar and conservative Barry McCaffrey.”

well what would you expect statists looking to expand their remit to say?
how exactly does marijuana kill people? by giving them munchies so bad they burst their stomachs?

#8 Comment By Dave G On October 13, 2010 @ 11:59 am

Klye said. “Under the constitution, it is one of the enumerated powers that the federal government can wage war, including the war on drugs.”

So, let me get this straight. As long as government action is declared to be a “War on …” (fill in the blank), the federal government is justified in doing it by virtue of the enumerated powers clause? Wow! That really clears things up for me. I now have a much better understanding of last 90+ years of US history.

Although in light of this new perspective, I’m still scratching my head about the need for the 18th Amendment. Hmmm… Maybe by amending the constitution they were saying that they really, really, really meant business with respect to that pesky alcohol thing?

-Dave G.

#9 Comment By Viking On October 13, 2010 @ 2:15 pm

Anybody notice all Kyle’s causes are lifted from early 20th century progressives?

#10 Comment By Nate Weinstein On October 13, 2010 @ 2:40 pm

Anybody notice all Viking’s causes are lifted out of Mein Kempf and The Communist Manifesto?

#11 Comment By Kyle K On October 13, 2010 @ 3:02 pm

I’d also like to point out that the constitution was written hundreds of years before marijuana, LSD, Meth, Crack, Cocaine and hallucinogenic mushrooms were even invented. If these things existed in the late 18th century when the consitution was written,surely our countries founding fathers would have proscribed these wicked substances.

#12 Comment By Viking On October 13, 2010 @ 7:58 pm

Nate I have revealed no causes other than a few observations about you and your alter ego. You know nothing about me from my rhetoric and thus everything you accuse me of is decietful, a deadly sin in the “judeo-Christian” tradition you claim to support.

Prohibition, interventionism, zionism are all progressive causes imported into movement conservativism by Neo-cons like Irving Kristol, an ex- Trotskyite.

Kyle the constitution was written during an epidemic of alcholism, a drug that was and is as addicive as many illegal drugs, yet they did not write prohibition into the constitution. Marijuanna was already known at the time of the framing of the constitution. Your argument seems unconvincing.

#13 Comment By Nate Weinstein On October 13, 2010 @ 8:50 pm

Viking, so by your own words anarchism, atheism, surrenderism, slaveryism, and Islamofascism are all conservative causes? Are you for real man? The founding fathers lived in a time when not a single person smoked marijuana and they didn’t have cable news networks to understand the turmoil in the Middle East so they didn’t realize the importance of supporting Isreal by fighting terrorism. Just imagine if you had a time machine and could bring George Washington back to the future like in that movie with Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd. He would not be some liberal antiwar kook who would just let our nation as well as our greatest ally Isreal fall to terrorism. George Washington would be a patriotic Reagan conservative who supports our troops and the war on terrorism. Prove me wrong.

#14 Comment By Viking On October 13, 2010 @ 9:35 pm


It’s pointless to debate you. You’re not honest.

#15 Comment By Nate Weinstein On October 13, 2010 @ 9:39 pm

Viking, so you are conceding defeat? Not suprising since that is the very approach you take towards the war on terrorism.

#16 Comment By Viking On October 13, 2010 @ 9:46 pm

Nate/Kyle (I assume you’re the same troll)

Washington warned against factionalism and foriegn entaglements. Of all the founding fathers he’s one of the worst for you to be projecting your views on.

Franklin is said to have referenced smoking marijauna himself. Washington and Jefferson both grew hemp, presumably they knew of its effect as a drug.

I’ve lived through foreign political crises including in the Islamic world and ALL the cable news outlets do a piss poor job of explaining them.

Having said all that it’s pointless to debate you. You feel you have the right to throw unsubstantiated accusations at people like calling them fascists, communists and pagans. You call anyone who disagrees with you a liberal even if though they are conservative and you’re just a little armchair warrior who’s obviously never set eyes on a real act of terrorism in his life.

You are less than me, an inferior, and you always will be.

#17 Comment By Viking On October 13, 2010 @ 9:48 pm

Nate, yes I concede you are hopelessly weak and dishonest.

#18 Comment By Nate Weinstein On October 13, 2010 @ 10:51 pm

Viking, are you and Montario Hardesty the same account?

#19 Comment By terrymac On October 14, 2010 @ 10:50 am

Kyle, you are ignorant of history. Medicinal herbs, including marijuana, were around for thousands of years, and the Founders were aware of them. It is not “conservative” to ignore the Bill of Rights, to redact all the good parts of the Constitution, to burst into peoples homes and throw them into jail to prevent them from using a medicinal plant which saves lives.

#20 Comment By Jack On October 14, 2010 @ 1:55 pm

Right on. About 20 years ago, Fortune Magazine did a fear on the “most pro business” Senator and low and behold Howard Metzenbaum won and Jesse Helms was ranked the worst. The truth is Metzenbaum was a socialist and Helms one of the most pro-free market guys in half a century. Apparently the votes they were based on things like creation of government agencies to “help” business.

#21 Comment By daddysteve On October 14, 2010 @ 7:12 pm

Troll feeding may be a fun intellectual exercise but it sure fills up a comment section.

#22 Comment By Kyle K On October 14, 2010 @ 8:12 pm


The constitution is not a death document and was written over 250 years ago in the middle ages, get over it, its not applicable to modern day society and the scourge of terrorism and racism.

#23 Comment By rechill On October 15, 2010 @ 7:55 am

LOL! “The scourge of terrorism and racism.” That’s really rich. So how people has racism killed? Do white people’s deaths count?

250 years ago was not the Middle Ages, Kyle. And we’re supposed to take you seriously?

#24 Comment By JGP On October 15, 2010 @ 8:23 am

I think Kyle K and Nate should leave and not come back. BTW, marijuana has never killed anyone, Barry McCaffery is a liar and I would love to know what our support of Israel has done to help the United States and it’s citizens.

#25 Comment By Expose NWO On October 17, 2010 @ 10:18 am

Nate and Kyle are the same people. Trolls For Zionism.

#26 Comment By Nate Weinstein On October 18, 2010 @ 12:54 pm

Expose NWO, You are a kook. Please take your insane moonbat conspiracy theories over to a liberal Marxist site like INFOWARS.com or Chroniclesmagazine.org where that left wing crap is welcome.

#27 Comment By Tikinoa On October 19, 2010 @ 7:14 pm

This discussion exactly illustrates the current divide in Conservative movement. Conservatism once meant a healthy distrust of the state, even (perhaps even especially) when their stated intent was good. Thus George Washington’s admonition towards isolationism (now a dirty word) and the extreme limited enumerated powers of the Constitution (leaving any regulation of things like drugs to the States).

Nate, Kyle, the philosophies you are espousing are relabeled progressive ideologies. It is unfortunately true that these ideas have plagued the Republican Party for too long, yet they are anything but Conservative.

Please reconsider either your ideas or your self-association with the movement. For all of our sakes, I hope it is the former.

#28 Comment By Katoa On October 19, 2010 @ 7:42 pm

As to the drug war specifically, here are the wise words of Daniel McCarthy, editor of this fine publication in a recent interview:

“The war on drugs is unconstitutional. It took a constitutional amendment to ban one intoxicating substance, alcohol. What changed so that mere congressional edict could ban others? But there’s a lot of money in the war on drugs and the war on drugs acts as a good proxy for other things – like religious passions and racial animosities. Americans are the most drugged people on the planet, but they believe they are absolved of their pharmaceutical sins as long as the drugs are prescribed by priests in a white coats. It’s nonsense.

Yet as is so often the case in these political and social conflicts, both sides are quite wrong. The drug warriors are worse, but the drug culture is in many ways a culture of irresponsibility and self-indulgence, a fundamentally servile culture. You can easily see the powers that be changing their minds and instead of banning drugs encouraging them – giving us conditions like those of Huxley’s Brave New World. So much the better if people freely demand their soma rather than having to have it forced upon them.”

#29 Comment By Mike W On October 20, 2010 @ 8:39 am

Nate is a one trick pony – Israel always good. Even when they kill US Sailors on the USS Liberty, or when they spy on us and continue to try to get a convicted traitor spy early release so he can be heralded as a hero in Israel. Even when they endlessly slaughter Arabs with American weapons but still beg for more US money.

Israel has a right to exist. That doesn’t mean they have a blank check to drag us into endless wars and turmoil. They are a lousy ally but even so, we must save them from their own folly.

#30 Comment By john On October 22, 2010 @ 3:02 am

The tea-partiers are not the measure of conservatism. They are a bunch of racist, bigoted Koran burning, anti–Mosque, Birthers, and Bush/Cheney groupies and hypocrits. They sceam pro-life as they cheer the incineration of Midddle Eastern women and children ,and condemn all programs that try to help the woman after the birth. They talk about sovereignty as it relates to illegal immigration and the United Nations, but accept NATO as well as the fact that U.S. Foreign policy is made in Tel Aviv. And they are not sending their Social Security checks or farm subsidies back to Uncle Sam. Nor are they sending their children to fight an die in The Middle East,.or anywhere else. And let’s remember it was under The Republicans that the economy collapsed and the bailut began. The main problem as tea-partiers see it , and the reason for their anger, is that the Bush/Cheney regime was defeated–and by a black man to boot. Furthermore, the only amendment of The Bill of Rights they know and cherish is the Second, having supported the jettisoning of The First, and Fourth through Eighth amendments. The tea-party is not the place to find conservatives; it is the place to find nuts.

#31 Pingback By Video: The Southern Avenger on ‘Mismeasure of a Conservative’ | Political Byline On October 24, 2010 @ 6:54 am

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#32 Comment By Don Yarish On October 26, 2010 @ 6:45 pm

Libertarianism is the best home for conservatives, the Marxist Left and Fascist Neo-Con Right in American are two faces of the same socialist welfare/warfare nightmare. The only practical difference is the uniforms, they have nothing and I mean NOTHING to do with the Constitution and freedom. Look how easily the old Left became the new Neo-Con Right. Avoid the Fascist hatemongers like Nate they are truly deranged sick individuals, reject both parties they are lap dogs of the progressive wealthy elites that own and control our society and exploit us all.

Join the Ron Paul Revolution, death to tyrants!