The Ideology of Veeping

Ezra takes a shot at explaining Chet Edwards, and his closing encapsulates maybe the biggest problem we have when trying to ideologically filter VP, or even Presidential, politics:

On the other hand, representing one of the most conservative districts in the country doesn’t lead to a terribly progressive voting record. And as Dylan Matthews explained at Tapped, Edwards’ voting record isn’t the sort of thing that really fits with Obama’s message. So I’d be surprised to see him get the veep nod.

I think too often we look at votes, records, public positions, and so on and confuse them with personal opinions or evidence of an individual’s ideology. Which admittedly makes sense to do, on some level, but it doesn’t really make sense to not take into account the politics of a public official’s constituency when doing so, or to take into account the importance of that one official in the broader picture. So, for example, if a rather liberal individual represents a rather conservative district, he’s only going to be able to be a so liberal if he wants to stay in office. And if a bill that matters to progressives comes up, and the official is confident that it will pass (or fail) handily no matter how he votes, it makes a lot of sense for him to cast a vote that is more in line with his constituents for political purposes. Now, if he votes in a conservative fashion and the conservative side wins a narrow victory, that’s another matter entirely, but I think you get the idea.

That said, there are other, less tangiable factors that should go into consideration when judging a particular official, and how they might respond to the national game, and being more or less freed of having to win a narrow constituency with particular interests. In Edwards’ case, Nancy Pelosi personally endorsed him, and I think most people would agree that Pelosi is probably the most powerful, solidly progressive individual in the country. That’s saying a lot. In the case of, say, Evan Bayh (who I’m not fan of), he might have a reputation for centrism in the national vernacular, but also be markedly more liberal than the median voter in his constituency. And then there are “dual cases” like Tim Kaine, who has a truly remarkable progressive record on things like race, housing, and poverty, even if he’s near terrible on abortion and gay issues. 

None of this is to say that records don’t matter, obviously, it’s merely to point out that so far as public officials go, many of their votes are necessary because of the interests of their constituents, and it’s therefore hard to use them as a gauge of the individuals own opinions on the matter. For example, I have no idea what Barack Obama personally thought of the most recent farm bill, but that doesn’t really matter. As a Senator from Illinois, he couldn’t possibly vote against it. And for the flip side of that, and about as good of a demonstration of the reality of concentrated interest I could find, you can read an excellent examination of how John McCain’s opposition to that bill is now killing him in Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio.