Time Tilts "Best Senators" List Toward Liberal, "Maverick" Media Favorites

Time magazine decided to rank "America's Ten Best Senators" for their April 24 edition. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Massimo Calabresi and Perry Bacon proclaim that they consulted all sorts of pundits and academics, but they mostly picked ultraliberal Democrats and moderate Republicans. Even the Republicans with more conservative voting scores (think John McCain) are seen by the media as more centrist, willing to frustrate the Bush White House.

Over at the "Right Angle" blog at Human Events Online, Rob Bluey did the work of checking these Senators' ideological scores, their lifetime American Conservative Union ratings:

The Best Senators

Thad Cochran: 81%
Kent Conrad: 20%
Dick Durbin: 7%
Ted Kennedy: 3%
Jon Kyl: 97%
Carl Levin: 7%
Richard Lugar: 79%
John McCain: 83%
Olympia J. Snowe: 50%
Arlen Specter: 45%

Kyl is the only surprise here, and it makes you wonder if they weren't sweet-talked into it by McCain, his Arizona colleague (especially when you read the brief profile, which awards him for "mastering...subterfuge.") Kyl is labeled "ultraconservative," while lefties Levin and Durbin draw no label whatsoever. Ted Kennedy is -- their we're-not-worthy awe comes through -- a "liberal icon."

The Worst Senators
Daniel Akaka: 8%
Wayne Allard: 96%
Jim Bunning: 95%
Conrad Burns: 91%
Mark Dayton: 11%

These picks are more predictable, and ideological. Time has picked three conservative Republicans who've had close electoral calls. But the two Democrats are either retiring (Dayton) or likely to be re-elected until the onset of senility or death (Akaka in oh-so-blue Hawaii). The labeling choices are different here. They find it safe to say Dayton's legislative proposals are "too liberal" for the Republican Senate, and Akaka is an "ultraliberal," a word Time rarely uses. He has a higher ACU score than "liberal icon" Teddy. (They also note he's liked by "conservative firebrand" Jim Inhofe.) Bunning draws no label as they scorn his lack of effort. Allard is a "fiscal conservative." Burns drew no label, but Time was harsh: "Burns' real problem, however is not with making law but staying on the right side of it," noting he has ties to confessed lobbyist/crook Jack Abramoff.

The Up-and-ComersBarack Obama: 8%
Lindsey Graham: 91%
Hillary Clinton: 9%
John Sununu: 94%
Mark Pryor: 25%

Despite his high ACU score, Time hails Sen. Graham as "boyish, fast-talking and a maverick" who has "bucked the Bush White House." (In Kyl's profile, he is identified as a "centrist.") Sununu is a "fiscal conservative," and a surprising pick for Time. Pryor worked with the "centrist 'Gang of 14'" against judicial filibusters. Obama and Clinton are the least surprising picks, and it's also not surprising that neither drew a liberal label. With an ACU of 8, Akaka's "ultraliberal," but Hillary, with an ACU of 9, has no label?

Now let's look at some of the Time passages for the fervor and the flavor. 

-- Hillary gets this: "The record of candidate Clinton may be controversial, but in her six short years New York Democrat Senator Clinton, 58, has earned respect from both parties." She's hailed for having "mastered issues" of defense and health care and "leveraged her national clout to spotlight important terrorism issues with narrow followings -- like the vulnerability of nuclear plants."

-- Obama "rode into town with a halo and has worked hard ever since to prove he's a mere mortal." (That's a compliment, in case you're in doubt.) "He has reached so often across the aisle on say, controlling Katrina spending, that some Democrats complain he won't be their firebrand."

-- Specter has a "principled contrarianism" that "fits into the tradition of lawmakers Senate historian Richard Baker describes as the conscience of the institution." He's hailed for "doubling spending on the National Institutes of Health and for increasing education spending 146 percent over 11 years."

-- McCain puts "unorthodox issues at center stage" and has great "moral authority."

-- Snowe is a "centrist" who works hard for her Maine constituents. She's also hailed for statism: "she almost single-handedly forced Bush to lower a tax-cut proposal from $700 billion to $350 billion." And she says a cab driver told her "You go, Olympia, you stand strong." 

-- Conrad is hailed for his honorary Sioux name, "Never Turns Back," for refusing to consider Bush's plan for private accounts as part of Social Security. He's also honored for his habits: "he spends modestly on travel, he balances his checkbook daily, and when he drinks, it's never more than two cocktails." There were no details on Ted Kennedy's cocktail habits.

-- Cochran "angered G.O.P. conservatives" who were pushing for "cuts in the budget and ignoring Louisiana and Missisippi" in the Katrina aftermath. And "In the end, he got $29 billion out of his colleagues, almost double the money that Bush and congressional colleagues had initially pledged."

-- "Durbin's tough questioning of his colleagues and his willingness to defend his proposals clarify and distill complicated issues for the C-SPAN viewing public." Yes, he was "forced to apologize" for comparing U.S. troop actions in Guantanamo to Nazis, Soviets, and the Khmer Rouge, but he "has a bipartisan side."

-- Lugar is hailed as a visionary, ahead of the curve, as he opposed Reagan: "In the 1980s he led the push for democracy in the Philippines and South Africa when the Reagan administration was still backing undemocratic regimes there."

-- Levin is "admired by many Republicans for his diligence" and "his carefully researched, thoughtful remarks carry great weight with his colleagues."

-- Kennedy "has fought serial battles on behalf of the working class" and "has amassed a titanic record of legislation, affecting the lives of virtually every man, woman, and child in the country." While he failed to stop the confirmations of John Roberts and Sam Alito to the Supreme Court, he "still finds a way to deliver the goods for the less advantaged."

-- On the "subterfuge" front, Kyl and his aides denied it, but "GOP aides say that when Harriet Miers was nominated to the Supreme Court last October, "Kyl and his staff led a behind-the-scenes effort to undermine the nomination." This is a little odd when Specter is hailed for forcing Myers out by sending a "blistering list of questions he would have asked" to the White House.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis