Move over Barbara Boxer and Ted Kennedy, the U.S. Senate's #1 liberal is our own Dick Durbin.
This is based not on the rantings of the dwindling number of right wingers in Illinois but on 2006 votes compiled and tabulated by the non-partisan National Journal.
We've all heard Durbin intone about about President Bush or his nominees being "extreme" and "out of the mainstream." I wonder who will be the first media interviewer to ask him whether being to the left of Boxer and Kennedy could be considered mainstream. I'm not expecting the question any time soon because the news media is Illinois has never been tough on Durbin despite his far left voting record. Durbin appeases media outlets here by regularly granting interviews and blasting away at the Bush administration. The tacit agreement seems to be in exchange for the steady stream of liberal fodder, no tough questions are asked.
Imagine if the last GOP senator from Illinois, Peter Fitzgerald, had just been found to have the most conservative voting record in the Senate. We'd be seeing long articles titled, "Fitzgerald's hard turn to the right." I remember in the 1998 election when Fitzgerald was running against Carol Moseley Braun. I was not working for Fitzgerald at the time, but was stunned at a radio report I heard. A prominent Chicago radio newsman had just described Fitzgerald as an "ultra conservative" and placed no label in front of Braun's name. I called the newsman and said his labeling was unfair. He listened and agreed with me. As former network television newsman Bernie Goldberg so accurately pointed out in his book, Bias, the left leaning news media often does not realize that it places more labels on conservatives. To them, a conservative seems more unusual and thus worthy of a label because most of their friends are like-minded liberals.
My problem with Durbin is that he has never bucked his own party on anything. And once he sees the political winds blowing, he'll hold up a sail and slide right on over. Former Sun-Times political columnist Steve Neal called him Sen. Flip-Flop, noting that Durbin was pro-life until he decided to run for Senate. The Chicago Tribune, in endorsing his opponent in 2002, described Durbin as a political weather vane, ironically after Durbin acceded to the Tribune's demands that he change his position on expansion of O'Hare airport.
Durbin's vote against the Iraq war doesn't qualify as courage. Durbin's opponent for re-election in 2002 had no money and was no threat to him. He cast the vote on Oct. 11, 2002, along with 20 other Democrats, hardly a lonely position. At the time, Durbin was climbing the party leadership ladder and it helped his career path to be anti-war so he could be the tip of the Democrat's spear against George W. Bush.
As the anti-Bush leader, Durbin has hurled unsubstantiated charges, invective and innuendo at Republicans every chance he has gotten the last six years. For that, he has received the warm embrace of his fellow senator Barack Obama, the man who claims he wants to change the tone in Washington.