The most abused adjective in political reporting is the label “centrist.” It should tell you everything about the politician. Unfortunately, it tells us far more about those applying the label. The American Conservative Union ratings system has been widely accepted as the voting compass from the perspective of the right. According to the ACU, a centrist would look like Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who has a lifetime ACU score of 44.8%. Reporters could call her a “liberal Republican,” and they should, except that term simply doesn’t exist. (Don’t believe us? Check it out.)
Or take Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who is considered a “conservative Democrat,” but that animal doesn’t exist in the Senate. His lifetime ACU rating is 26.7%, putting him in lockstep with the left almost three-quarters of the time.
Where this all gets ridiculous is the presidential field. In 2016, Hillary Clinton was regularly pitched as a centrist by the press. Her ACU score from her Senate years, ending in 2009, was 8.1%. But that wasn’t the worst of it. When she picked Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate, even The Wall Street Journal oozed that Kaine’s “centrist policies” could help Clinton. His ACU score at the time was 1%. (He’s now up to 2.2%.)
It’s happening again in this cycle, to the point of absurdity. With extreme socialists like Sen. Bernie Sanders in the race, anyone who isn’t endorsing a socialist position — like redistributing wealth, abolishing private health insurance and shredding the fossil fuel industry — is categorized as a centrist. Defending the leftist lurch that was Obamacare is now the centrist position in this daffy media dictionary.
When Joe Biden left the Senate in 2008 to be then-presidential candidate Barack Obama's running mate, his lifetime ACU score was 12.7%. He's only lurched further left ever since. But now, suddenly, he's a "centrist" candidate.
Take Ed O'Keefe at CBS News. This election cycle, he has touted "the national front-runner Joe Biden, a moderate, sandwiched between two liberals, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders." There you have it. Socialists are liberals, and semi-socialists are moderates.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is perpetually labeled as a centrist because she's not tap-dancing with Sanders on socialist single-payer health care or free college or the Green New Deal.
The New York Times warned last year, "While her approach may appeal to centrists and moderate Republicans in her home state, her breaks with liberal orthodoxy risk alienating the ascendant progressive wing of her party." Her lifetime ACU rating -- i.e., votes, not rhetoric -- is 4.7%.
Most of the Senate Democrats who showed up for the presidential run live right around Klobuchar's leftist percentage. Sen. Kamala Harris' rating is 4.6%; Warren's is 4.2%; Sen. Michael Bennet's is 5.5%; Sen. Cory Booker's is 5.1%. How leftist are they? Their voting record has them to the left of Sanders! He has 6.8%.
Candidates such as Mayor Pete Buttigieg who have no ACU rating can be 100% pro-choice and 1,000% LGBTQ Nation and be "centrist." "The View" co-host Joy Behar calls him a moderate. Enough said.
Michael Bloomberg can proclaim the urge to confiscate your guns and give away millions to Planned Parenthood and the Sierra Club, but he's a "centrist" because he's a billionaire. ABC's Mary Bruce described Bloomberg as "a centrist who has become an active proponent of gun reform."
All this nonsense defines for everyone where our political journalists are located on the political spectrum. They think they represent the mainstream. They never have, and this cockeyed labeling shows they're only getting worse.
L. Brent Bozell III is the president of the Media Research Center. Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center and executive editor of the blog NewsBusters.org.