The Al Gore-Bill Bradley Green-Off, Part I

The Washington Post ran a surprising news article last week by David Broder reporting that Friends of the Earth’s political action committee would endorse Bill Bradley for president. The surprising news wasn’t that Friends of the Earth was dissing Gore–as Broder’s article explained, Friends of the Earth is both somewhat smaller than and somewhat to the left of most other national environmental groups, which are still expected to endorse the vice president. No, what was surprising was that in the course of justifying this bit of interest-group entrepreneurship, the Friends of the Earth PAC was able to state that, looking at both candidates’ years in Congress, Bradley had a significantly more pro-green voting record than Gore. The Broder article (or, more likely, the Friends of the Earth handout that Broder was paraphrasing) slightly botched the two candidates’ respective scores from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV)–whose ratings go pretty much unquestioned within the environmental movement. Broder said Bradley scored 85 percent to Gore’s 66 percent, when in fact Bradley scored 84 percent to Gore’s 64 percent. But the claim that Bradley had a much better LCV score than Gore is quite true. Indeed, since the gap is really20 percentage points (rather than 19 points), it’s a little truer than Broder said.*

In the great scheme of things, of course, both Bradley and Gore have sufficiently high LCV ratings that one really shouldn’t call into question either candidate’s commitment to environmental protection. Still, Gore is someone who once wrote (in his 1992 book Earth in the Balance) that “we must make the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization.” By contrast, Bradley is someone who once wrote (in his 1996 book Time Present, Time Past) that “the environmental movement brought a vast improvement in the quality of New Jersey’s ecology.” Bradley is much better known for his interest in tax reform and racial healing (and, of course, basketball) than for any interest in conservation. How can it be that Bradley’s environmental voting record is so much better than Gore’s?

Perhaps, Chatterbox thought, there was something unfair about the LCV calculations. Examining Gore’s and Bradley’s LCV scorecards (which, sadly, aren’t available on the Web), Chatterbox noticed that Gore was being judged partly on votes that occurred during the two years before Bradley came to Washington–and, in one of those years (1978), Gore earned his third-worst annual LCV score ever (56 percent). Mightn’t Bradley have cast a few anti-environmental votes if he’d been around during those two years? So Chatterbox knocked out 1977 and 1978 and recalculated Gore’s lifetime LCV score. That brought Goreup from 64 percent to 65 percent. Then Chatterbox recalculated Bradley’s lifetime LCV score by knocking out 1993 through 1996, when Bradley retired, since this was a period when Gore wasn’t around to vote (except, of course, on Senate tie-breakers, but LCV doesn’t count those). This left Bradley at 84 percent, with the Gore-Bradley gap narrowed from 20 to 19 percentage points.

Then Chatterbox noticed that Gore had missed a total of 19 LCV-scored environmental votes during his years in Congress, while Bradley has missed only nine. Nine of Gore’s absences occurred during 1987-8 and 1992, when Gore was quite understandably occupied by running for president and vice president, respectively. So Chatterbox knocked those years out of Gore’s LCV lifetime score, too. That brought Goreup from 65 percent to 66 percent. But Chatterbox had to do the same thing for Bradley. That brought Bradleyup from 84 percent to 85 percent, leaving the Gore-Bradley gap stuck at 19 percentage points.

Maybe, Chatterbox thought, the only fair comparison was for the years 1985 through 1992, when Gore and Bradley served together in the Senate: same chamber, same votes, no room for apples-and-oranges mismatches. That brought Gore from his raw score of 64 percent up to 73 percent, but it also brought Bradley up from his raw score of 84 percent to 86percent, leaving a stubborn gap of 13 percentage points in Bradley’s favor. Chatterbox narrowed this gap to eight percentage points by eliminating 1987-8 and 1992 from both men’s Senate scores (again, because Gore had absences presumably related to the presidential races): Gore shot up to 82 percent, while Bradley inched up to 90 percent.

Conclusion: No matter how hard you try to give Gore a break, Bradley has the greener congressional voting record. An examination of the particular votes that cost Gore this contest will follow.

(To Be Continued …)

*Pedant’s Corner: the erroneous 85 to 66 percent calculations were almost certainly arrived at by averaging the yearly LCV scores; but LCV calculates a legislator’s lifetime score by adding up all his pro-environment votes and dividing that number by the total number of LCV-scored votes that took place while he was in Congress. Because of a typo on the LCV scorecard for Bradley, Chatterbox momentarily thought Gore had been rooked; dividing Bradley’s lifetime total of 172 pro-environment votes by 214, which the scorecard presents as the total number of LCV-scored votes that took place during Bradley’s years in Congress, Chatterbox got not 84 percent but 80 percent. Chatterbox then added up all the numbers in that column and realized that the 214 total was erroneous; the real total was 204, hence Bradley’s 84 percent lifetime score was correct. But because Chatterbox had already done the calculations that comprise much of this item, he had to go back and redo several of them based on the 204 total. This was extremely annoying.