This week the American Conservative Union was pleased to announce our annual Ratings of Congress; the occasion of these ratings is often cause for agreement and disagreement. For 42 years, ACU has published these ratings of every member of Congress. Its purpose, as stated in each edition, is to find the dividing line between conservatives and liberals and those who are somewhere in the middle. There are a few reasons why, throughout the years, the ACU Ratings of Congress have become the go-to guide to determine whether an elected official???s philosophical rhetoric matches his or her record.
First, ACU is an umbrella organization that covers what is known as the three-legged stool of conservative issues, economic, social and those that affect national security and American sovereignty. This means that some members of Congress who score well on some of these issues may score poorly on others. To score a perfect 100 in any given year and receive our ???Defender of Liberty Award,??? a member of Congress would have to be strong in each category.
Second, ACU does not generally seek to drive the outcome of the ratings by announcing in advance which votes will be included, except in rare instances on issues of overwhelming importance, such as Obamacare. We believe that this results in a truer outcome.
In addition, the votes selected, limited to 25 each in the House and Senate out of hundreds cast, are not outcome-based. They are also not necessarily considered the ???most important??? votes as defined by others. Rather the votes selected are chosen to create a clear ideological distinction among those casting them.
Of course, we are limited to what issues are put before the House and Senate. When Nancy Pelosi was Speaker of the House, for example, she shut down the amendment process to such an extent that we had to include a special note that many issues of social and cultural importance to conservatives never received a vote.
That is not the case in 2012. The 25 votes in each House reflect a wide variety of issues, and dig deep into the divisions among Republicans. For example, in the House we include the amendment by Congressman Tom McClintock to eliminate funding for the Community Development Block Grant Program, an unauthorized program that has turned into a $3.4 billion slush fund for pet projects. It was defeated 80-342 with scores of Republicans voting to keep the program. We also included votes to keep the union backed Davis-Bacon Act and Project Labor Agreements that succeeded thanks to many Republicans who voted for them. In the Senate, we included strong amendments by Senator Jim DeMint on wasteful spending, one to cut energy subsidies that was defeated 26-72 and we included the vote on the Export-Import Bank that we opposed but a majority of Republicans supported and passed 78-20.
Inevitably, there are those who will feel someone they like was unfairly treated or someone they don???t like was treated too favorably in one particular year. They may be shocked to find that members of Congress change their votes on issues over the years depending on the electorate they represent. I???m afraid this has been true since the First Congress. The value of these ratings is that, by using a consistent standard over a long period of time, they have become the most reliable test for conservatives and will continue to be such.
It has become fashionable among some conservatives to devote a preponderance of their time to finding things about other conservatives they don???t like. I do not believe this serves the conservative movement well. I am proud to be a traditional Ronald Reagan conservative. The movement taught me to be thoughtful, firm, principled and positive. Conservatives prospered politically when we worked at getting along in spite of differences of opinion or personalities. These will always exist, but it is essential that we abide by basic rules of engagement, not play out our disagreements in public and do our homework before criticizing our colleagues, as I believe we did in the past.
As we welcome the new faces of the movement, we must ask ourselves, do these basics still apply? We are at war with liberals and moderates, but it now seems we have added fellow conservatives as the enemy. I would ask my fellow conservatives to take a deep breath, rethink your priorities and show some respect. We are all in this important struggle together and as such we are not looking for division with one another. So my message to newcomers is: stop it. If we go down this road, we will destroy our ability to succeed.