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Media need backup for accurate Senate comparisons

The mainstream media have their purposes, but one of their chief shortcomings is they cannot, given their level of expertise and space/time constraints, present more than a superficial if even accurate picture of issues of the day. That’s why columns like this exist and prove useful in the instance of evaluating the different issue preferences of Louisiana’s major 2010 Senate candidates.

One look at historical voting records for both incumbent Republican Sen. David Vitter and challenger Democrat Rep. Charlie Melancon immediately tells you there’s a big difference: according to the American Conservative Union’s voting scorecard, Vitter is a strong conservative at about 94 lifetime (100 in 2009) while Melancon is a moderate liberal at about 42 lifetime (27 in 2009). But it’s also evident on individual issues from the past couple of years.

The Troubled Asset Relief Program has gotten a number of politicians in trouble this election cycle, and rightly so. Designed to infuse taxpayer dollars into the financial system through government ownership to provide short-term fiscal relief to private sector entities, the $700 billion program (curtailed slightly with recent legislation) in its pessimistic scenario will lose $105 billion; in its most optimistic, it may break even. Unfortunately, it provided an uneven short-term fix at the expense of long-term concerns. It merely kicked the can down the road regarding those weak assets that threatens to create an additional debt crisis through necessity of refinancing so much short-term debt designed to fund the program at higher rates and also because debt deleveraging of the weak assets has not nearly run its course because of the jobless recovery it has helped to create. Melancon voted for it; Vitter voted against it and was one of its sharpest critics.

Somewhat of a successor to TARP was a recent bill that would infuse $30 billion into the banking system for loans, to small business, along with $12 billion in tax credits for small business. But the credits are fleeting and mostly useless while the bill lowers lending standards to cause the same problem that the government-created financial crisis did beginning in 2007. Vitter voted against it and proposed instead to help small business by getting (unsuccessfully) Democrats to extend the Republican tax cuts of 2002 due to expire at the end of this year while Melancon voted for it and is against extending the cuts for all.

And also related to TARP, the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law extended vastly government’s regulatory powers at large expense to the industry (to be passed through to consumers) which will stifle investment particularly at the community level, stunt lending, and makes permanent the TARP system in the hands of a vast new array of unelected bureaucrats. Melancon voted for it, Vitter against it.

Both Vitter and Melancon voted against their chambers’ versions of the Democrat health care bill that will lower quality and increase costs. But Melancon, in committee, enabled a key provision of the bill to go through that later was kept alive that would allow for public monies to end up financing abortion. Melancon also has stated that he does not want to repeal the law but wants to improve it although he has not specified anything about that. Vitter has supported repeal.

Interested parties might figure out some of this if they paid attention to Vitter campaign communications, but they would have no idea of it if they followed only what Melancon issued because throughout the entire campaign Melancon (continuing a trend before he even formally announced a candidacy) has stayed away from meaningful discussions of issues, focusing instead on a strategy of character assassination of Vitter. This includes his distorting and dodging other issues such as supporting bureaucratic means of keeping the oil exploration moratorium.

So if the mainstream media are going to make some kind of attempt to inject issue preferences into the campaign that Melancon heretofore has resisted, the least that can be done is to back them up with more complete, and therefore more accurate, descriptions of the preferences of the candidates.

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