Dear Chris Matthews: Please Do Your Job

by hilzoy

Last night, Texas State Senator Kirk Watson, an Obama supporter, was embarrassed on national TV when he couldn't name any of Obama's legislative achievements. (He wrote what I think is a pretty decent and disarming account of it here.) David Kurtz, for whom I normally have enormous respect, writes:

"I suspect this is a bit of a Rorschach test. Depending on your perspective, it's proof that Obama is a lightweight, just goes to show what a gasbag Matthews is, or appeals to the same voyeuristic instinct that makes you slow down and gawk at a car accident."

I think it's only a Rorschach test for people who don't bother to find whether or not Obama actually has any actual legislative achievements. If he does, then of course this just shows that this one supporter didn't know what they are. If he doesn't, it might show something more, e.g. that Obama is a lightweight. As it happens, Obama does have substantive legislative achievements. I have written more about them here. A few highlights, all of which became law:

* Ethics Reform: Obama was the Senate's point person on ethics reform, and sponsored or co-sponsored the bills that made up what the Washington Post called "the strongest ethics legislation to emerge from Congress yet." I'm also a fan of this bill, which I think of as the Journalists, Bloggers, and Citizens' Muckraking Empowerment Act: it creates a searchable database of recipients of federal grants and contracts.

* The Lugar-Obama initiative to strengthen the Nunn-Luger framework for securing loose nukes, and to extend it to securing and destroying stockpiles of conventional arms. (For instance, shoulder-fired missiles that could be used against passenger airlines, fired at our forces, or used to make any number of ongoing conflicts more deadly.)

* Various bills concerning the response to Hurricane Katrina, including an amendment putting strict limits on the use of no-bid contracts after disasters, requiring planning for the evacuation of people with special needs and senior citizens, creating a National Emergency Family Locator System, etc.

There are also a lot of good bills he worked on that did not make it, including the compromise immigration bill and a proposal to create an independent Congressional Ethics Enforcement Commission, and some that are on the Senate calendar now, like a bill to criminalize various deceptive election tactics, like deceptive robocalls, providing misleading information about where to vote or what conditions you have to meet to be eligible to vote, etc.

There's a lot more. Honestly, there is. I wrote a summary here (and an earlier one here), and provided lists (1, 2, 3) of all the bills and amendments sponsored or co-sponsored by Clinton and Obama in the 109th and 110th Congresses, just so it would be as easy as possible for people to see for themselves. (Fun fact about each side's legislative records: during the 109th and 110th Congresses (which is to say, the time that both Obama and Clinton have been in the Senate), only one sponsored a substantive bill that became law. Guess who it was? Hint: the bill concerns the ongoing conflict in the Congo.) Which brings me to my larger point:

I did this because I had heard one too many people like Chris Matthews talking about Obama's alleged lack of substance, and I thought: I know that's not true, since I have read about Obama's work on non-proliferation, avian flu, and a few other issues. And if people are saying he lacks substance, then surely I, as a citizen, should try to find out whether I just hallucinated all this interesting legislation, or whether this talking point was, in fact, completely wrong. So I sat down with Google and Thomas and tried to find out.

But I'm just an amateur. I have a full-time job doing something else. Chris Matthews, by contrast, is paid large sums of money to provide political commentary and insight. I assume he has research assistants at his disposal. He could have done this work a lot more easily than I did. But he didn't. He was more interested in gotcha moments than in actually enlightening the American people.

So here's a challenge for Chris Matthews, or anyone else in the media who wants to take it up. Go over Clinton and Obama's actual legislative records. Find the genuine legislative accomplishments that each has to his or her name. Report to the American people on what you find. Until you do, don't accept statements from either side about who has substance and who does not, or who traffics in "speeches" and who offers "solutions". That's lazy, unprofessional, and a disservice to your audience.

Do your jobs. Don't leave it to bloggers like me to do it for you.