How “Constitutional” are the Votes of Your State’s Federal Delegation?

ConstitutionI remember from two years ago the charges leveled at Tennessee’s Senator Bob Corker. One of his opponents claimed that Corker voted with President Obama 60% of the time. Despite making this claim over and over, I never did find any evidence they presented which could be independently verified or, at least, evaluated for validity of conclusion.

The John Birch Society publishes an annual report, The Freedom Index, on how constitutional the votes are for federal officials. They’ve been doing this for over 25 years. I have enjoyed their reports and even wrote about it back in 2011 in the run-up to the elections. Around a dozen or so key votes are identified for each year, with constitutional implications, and the votes of all members of the US House and Senate are tallied and rated as to whether or not they are in line with the US Constitution or not.

The Birch Society has released a new Freedom Index in 2013 and I really like what they have done. This time they have included a comprehensive report covering all the votes they have tracked from 1999 to 2013. All the votes taken by current members in that time frame are then totaled to get a “lifetime” rating, as it were.

National party leaders scored this way.

In the US Senate, Harry Reid’s cumulative score is just 17%. In the US House, Nancy Pelosi scores just 16%. On the GOP side, Mitch McConnell scored 61% and John Boehner scored 54%.

Famous and long serving Democrat Senators have racked up some interesting scores. Barbara Boxer scored 14%Dianne Feinstein scored 13%Dick Durbin scored 11%Carl Levin scored 13% and Tom Harkin scored 14%. Long serving Republican Senators include Jeff Flake at 82%Tom Coburn also at 82%Michael Enzi at 70% and Jeff Sessions at 70%.

House Democrats fare no better. John Conyers scores 28%Charlie Rangel a mere 18%Sheila Jackson-Lee scores 24% and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz finishes at 14%. Elder House Republican Paul Ryan scores 58%Eric Cantor 57%Jeb Hensarling scores 67% and Dana Rohrabacher scores 76%.

Names in the news from the GOP and Liberty side of the equation, most with just a term or two of service to evaluate score as follows. Rand Paul scores 93%Mike Lee scores 90%Ted Cruz scores 90%Marco Rubio scores 80%, and Justin Amash scores 93% and Adam Kinzinger scores 65%.

The main page for the report is here and contains links to all federal office holders in the House and Senate. Tennessee’s entire federal delegation scores as follows:

John Duncan at 81%Scott DesJarlais scores 80%;

Steven Fincher scores 76%,  David Roe scores 74% and Chuck Fleischmann scores 71%;

Bob Corker scores 67%Diane Black scores 66%Marsha Blackburn scores 63%;

Lamar Alexander scores 53%;

Jim Cooper scores 21% and Steve Cohen scores 19%.

For this report, there were no 100% scores, likely because these are cumulative scores over multiple Congresses. For individual years, there have been scores of 100% but not over time. There were, however, several scores of ZERO.

For me, there are a couple of  basic takeaways:

#1 – There are those who believe that there is no essential difference between Republicans and Democrats. These discussions often take place in the context of the Constitutionality of votes and legislation. Clearly, given the numbers above, that is not the case.

#2 – As with the charges made by political opponents, an example of which I alluded to in the opening paragraph, claims made and opinions held may not be based in reality. Things are not true just because they are spoken. It seems difficult for me to accept that Bob Corker votes with President Obama 60% of the time AND votes with the Constitution 67% of the time, for example. Either the claims by Corker detractors are not what they seem or Barack Obama is doing a lot better than we give him credit for.

#3 – Political purity as a litmus test for viability of candidacies and as a basis for support is flawed. As noted, there were no 100% scores and not many 90%+ scores. The highest GOP scores tended to be in the 80% range. If one is looking to purity of principle as a determining factor for alliances, you are going to be working with a very small group of people this year. That group will likely shrink next year.

#4 – At the risk of being partisan, I have to observe that I often hear the notion advanced that Democrat leadership is, of course, far left and opposed to the principles which founded our nation. But rank and file Dems are better. Ummm … no …

What are your thoughts on the report’s findings? Let me know in comments. Talk to you there!

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  • stan25

    I checked my Congress Critters (Wyoming) and I liked what I saw. Mike Enzi is up for re-election this time around. There is talk of primary for him. I must admit I am kind of ambivalent about that. There is still better than a year before the campaigning starts in earnest, so it will be a wait and see what kind of votes he casts on certain issues that will affect the nation and state of Wyoming.

  • jim_m

    I have serious reservations on their methodology. I mean, any method that ranks Jan Schakowsky of Illinois (self avowed communist) as adhering to “principles of limited government, fiscal responsibility, national sovereignty” must be seriously suspect.

    The only way I can see her deserving the 23% rating they give her is because she opposes “foreign entanglements” namely being any assertion of US interest anywhere in the world (in other words she is for projecting US weakness and allowing enemies such as Russia and China to have hegemony over the rest of the world). Otherwise she is so openly against the constitution the only way they could have given her that ranking is that they have no idea who she is or what she stands for.

    • ernie1241

      With respect to the credibility of JBS methodology in its Freedom Index (formerly known as Conservative Index):

      In the past, the JBS scored Sen. James Eastland (MS) as 96% on its Conservative Index. So, from the JBS perspective, Eastland genuinely understood the principles and values of our Constitution and he voted accordingly.

      This was during the time that Eastland sought and received KKK support for his re-election campaigns. At that time, the KKK was on the Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations.

      But, according to the JBS, Eastland was an indisputable role model for how we should run our government.

  • Brucehenry

    The John Birch Society?


    Impeach Earl Warren!

    • Jwb10001

      Message shooter in chief Bruce has spoken….

      • Brucehenry

        That would be “messenger shooter,” wouldn’t it?

        But anyway, hey, if you think the John Fucking Birch Society is a credible, authoritative, and sober source for information on what is constitutional and what is not, knock yourself out.

        What’s going on here the last couple of days? On the one hand we have Warner posting articles from “Mr Conservative,” a blog whose comment section is filled with blatant racists snarking about “yard apes” and “pavement monkeys.” And on the other we have this guy blandly quoting as Gospel a ratings system from an outfit like the John Birch Society.

        • jim_m

          You’d be a good deal more credible if you attacked the ratings on something other than who produced them. I at least suggested that the methodology was screwy. All you’ve got is some stupid ad hom attack on the John Birch Society. (sure they are screwy and have a really bad history, but you can make a point on why this is yet another example of that rather than just empty complaints)

          Also, I think Kevin would back me up on the fact that you cannot control every word posted in the comments.

          • Brucehenry

            Fair enough on the comments, although I’m pretty sure Kevin wouldn’t let his comment section be overrun with goons calling folks yard apes, as Mr Conservative does.

            Maybe you’re too young to know much about the John Birch Society. They’re a gaggle of racist, rabid neanderthals and have been since their inception.


          • jim_m

            The best refutation of any assertion is one that confronts the facts directly rather than relying solely on disparaging the messenger.

          • Brucehenry

            Says you.

            See what I did there? 😉

  • Commander_Chico

    The Constitution is in the trash, this NSA thing proves that. Forget about it.

    • The rule of law does seem to be breaking.

      France 1789, you think?

      • Commander_Chico

        More like Rome 55 BC, I think.

        The sheeple aren’t going to be storming the Bastille, they’re waiting for the man on horseback.

        • Bread and circuses.

          What happens when the bread stops coming?

          • Commander_Chico

            We have a long way to go before the bread stops coming since we still have such a high per capita GDP.

            The bread (high-fructose corn syrup and mystery meat) will continue to make Americans fat and the circuses (American Idol, cable “news” and pro sports) will continue to make them stupid.

            But the Masters are managing a slow steady decline in the American standard of living, the better to keep more of that GDP. The surveillance is to keep an eye on everyone, some day people are going to understand how they’re getting screwed by “free” trade, immigration, finance and wage structures.

      • Brucehenry

        How do you figure?

        Because of Zimmerman? The wishes of “the mob” were ignored and the law strictly followed, resulting in a “not guilty verdict.

        Because the John Birch Society says so? Pffft.

        Because of this NSA business? This crap however abhorrent appears to be perfectly legal under the PATRIOT Act, which you and most conservatives were fine with until a Democrat was president, and thus it falls under the “rule of law.”

        You’ll be saying it’s 1789 every year till your dying day — at least in the years Democrats are in the White House. When Republicans man the Oval Office it’ll be 1776.

        • Commander_Chico

          Bruce, there is no question that the rule of law is breaking down in the USA.

          The NSA thing, which is blatantly unconstitutional, is one big thing. The Patriot Act does not supersede the Constitution. Plus, the blatant lying to the courts, Congress and public on that subject for years.

          The failure of Holder to prosecute massive frauds on Wall Street in the financial debacle is another. At least Bush’s DOJ prosecuted Enron, which was full of Texas cronies. Credit where due.

          But no credit to the Bushies’ adoption of torture and detention of U.S. citizens without right to a lawyer contrary to US law

          Obama and Holder – the Goldman Sachs Abacus fraud, Corzine’s rip-off of MF Global depositors, etc etc all went unprosecuted.

          Regularly, massive frauds and rip-offs in the markets and in government contracting go unprosecuted. Only civil lawsuits with sweet settlements like the LIBOR resolution. Meanwhile, poor folks made the largest prison population in the world, per capita.

          Now, Obama is refusing to say the military coup in Egypt is a military coup, because by law that would require the cut-off of aid to the Egyptian military. So the law is just ignored.

        • “The wishes of “the mob” were ignored and the law strictly followed, resulting in a “not guilty verdict.”

          And look what’s happening – the DOJ is trolling for anything they can find to justify charges of racism to appease those chanting in the streets for ‘Justice for Trayvon’ – and their definition of justice seems be defined as “Hang the fucker, no matter what the law says.”

          We need the administration to step up and go “Okay – you wanted an arrest? We arrested him. You wanted a trial? We had a trial. He’s not guilty. He killed Martin in self-defense. Get over it – justice was done, the law was followed, but ‘justice’ doesn’t mean you’ll get the verdict you want – you get the verdict that’s right under the law.”

          As Chico says – we’re seeing laws unevenly applied. Shit that should be prosecuted is ignored. (And if you’re partisan, this might suit you just fine if your party or issues get an advantage from that. But the wheel always turns, and you can’t much complain that laws are made that benefit others when you received benefit from the laws you wanted.)

          And then stuff that should be minor and local is magnified and trumpeted for unknown purposes. Is there any realistic reason why a self-defense case in Florida should have gotten on the national radar?

          Then again, maybe the purposes aren’t all that unknown. A magician directs your attention away from what he doesn’t want you to see him doing – and so does a pickpocket.

          Why has there been a constant focus on Martin/Zimmerman while (as Chico points out, and even a cursory examination of the news feeds show) there’s a hell of a lot of other stuff that should have higher priority but is basically ignored?

          I don’t think there’s any conspiracy – I think it’s sheer laziness on the part of the media. They’ll ignore what doesn’t seem likely to boost ratings, and they prefer simple stories that can be popped out every 15 minutes in rotation. Find the right narrative, and you draw in the viewers and boosts ratings.

          Given the right phrasing, the M/Z issue is an excellent draw. But the mess in Egypt isn’t simple, and can’t be quickly explained with just a minute or two of babble from a talking head. Besides, it’s halfway around the world – who cares about those strange places, anyway?

          How do you explain the NSA mess in 30 seconds, when you (as a ‘world-changing’ journalist, who chose it because your folks said you HAD to get a degree but you weren’t interested in anything but partying?) don’t even have the background yourself – and no real desire to learn?

          How do you explain the various messes in the ME? How do you explain the factionalism between Shi’a and Sunni? How do you present a cost-benefit analysis between various kinds of ‘green’ energy, so the average viewer with about a minute to spare can understand it?

          Look – a guy by the name of Zimmerman killed an innocent black child! Let’s all focus on that, and ignore this other stuff!

          • Commander_Chico

            Yep, M/Z is an excellent way to rouse the rabbles of all types.

            I’ve already decided the USA is screwed and am making my contingency plans.

          • jim_m

            Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.

          • Commander_Chico

            Just keep paying your taxes – I want to collect my military pension while I’m on the beach in Phuket, Boracay, or Papagayo.

          • Brucehenry

            OK, OK, good points all. Yours and Chico’s. Consider me schooled — no sarcasm.

            However, France 1789 isn’t quite the right analogy. Not sure what is, but that one isn’t.

          • Commander_Chico

            There’s a guy named Dimitri Orlov who says the USA is not that much different than the USSR and will disintegrate in a similar way. He’s written a couple of books on the subject.


            I recommend this presentation, even though it did not predict the rise of US oil and gas production, which is only partially slowing US decline:


            Anyways, history doesn’t repeat itself; it rhymes. The end of the USA will be different.


          • There are parallels, but it’s not exact. (Of course. As Chico says, it rhymes, it doesn’t repeat.)

            “French society underwent an epic transformation, as feudal, aristocratic and religious privileges evaporated under a sustained assault from radical left-wing
            political groups, masses on the streets, and peasants in the countryside.[1] ”

            The last 50-60 years have seen an incredible upheaval in our society. Lots of aspects have gotten better, some worse. (I think we might agree more than disagree on which, actually.)

            “Old ideas about tradition and hierarchy regarding monarchs, aristocrats, and the Catholic Church
            were abruptly overthrown by new principles of Liberté, égalité, fraternité (liberty, equality and fraternity).”

            And here we revert, creating our own ‘aristocratic class’ – career politicians, who’s children tend to take up the family business, so to speak. And the aristocrats do not take kindly to having their privileges and pronouncements questioned – just look at Reid and Pelosi.

            “Amidst a fiscal crisis, the common people of France were increasingly angered by the incompetency of King Louis XVI and the continued indifference and decadence of the aristocracy.”

            But the ‘common people’ here in the US don’t matter. Obama’s signature item, the ACA, is rapidly revealing itself to be a mess. (An unworkable mess? That would depend on what your definition of ‘unworkable’ is, and what your desired result from implementation is. I’m just saying the contents of the box ain’t what’s been advertized,) Congress is a mess. We haven’t had a budget in years. They’d rather investigate baseball than any of the hard things on their plate – I think they figure if they’re ignored long enough they won’t matter. And they want even MORE control, despite not showing the ability to use what they’ve got properly.

            We won’t even talk about the obsession with ‘going green’ and the money wasted on that. But it’s easier to focus on something that you can ostensibly fix by simply throwing money at people promising fixes than focus on things that are difficult to understand and likely more difficult to fix.

            The ‘aristocracy’ aren’t doing their job satisfactorily. The ‘monarchy’ isn’t either. And it’s no longer possible to hide that the job isn’t getting done.

            So – turmoil results. Interesting times we’re having, eh?

          • Commander_Chico

            Along with France, the Roman Republic had a conflict between entrenched patricians, rising equestrians and the plebeians.

            All of these revolutions seems to take place when economic changes created some societal tensions which the governance structure was incompetent to deal with.

            In the past, the rate of change was slow, now it’s fast and accelerating. Governments can’t keep up with globalized markets and several modes of instant personal and public communication.

            Guys like Orlov and John Robb say that big national governments are outdated, but will dodder along and become increasingly tyrannical to cope with hackers, flash mobs, terrorists, and dissent in general, for the benefit of small elites who will plunder.


            Basically, the forces acting on nations are centrifugal, flinging them apart. My bet is that the USA will break up, some event or movement will lead a state or states to secede. Might come from Vermont or Maine, might come from Texas or Alaska, or someplace else.

          • What I’d like to see is for the federal government to go “Hey – we’ve gotten too damn big, and we can’t do the job. We have to shift a lot of state and local responsibilities back to the states and localities we took over from. We meant well, but we’re passing the job back.”

            LIke that’s ever going to happen – you give a bureaucrat power and you’ve got to practically break their fingers to get them to let go of it.

            I wouldn’t be surprised to see secession movements gain ground.

          • Commander_Chico

            Yup, there is no reason for a lot of the federal government’s stuff not to be devolved.

            With Obamacare, it would have been better to let the states experiment, let some try a single-payer, let others try Romneycare or other systems.

            Homeland Security / DOJ / FBI is turning into the “U.S. Police Force” from Escape from New York.

          • As far as Obamacare – you’re right. But it’s faster and more satisfying for those with an authoritarian bent to do a top-down, one size fits all system.

            Even if that ‘one size’ doesn’t fit worth a damn.

  • Idahoser

    not nearly enough info. The ‘good’ votes could have been on issues we ourselves were divided on, and he could be calling it a bad vote.
    The good votes could be on useless piddly stuff we could let slide, while the bad votes are on important things.
    I have watched the TN delegation as well as I’m able in my non-politics life, and the only time I ever hear them mentioned, it’s for something bad (from my view).
    How can it be that even Heroes of the Revolution don’t have 100% scores? It’s because they have things to vote on that are always compromises. While many bills have some good, they all have mostly bad. There hasn’t been a bill since Thomas Jefferson’s day that should have passed.