Rhetoric and Tweets Do Not A Fighter Make

Wouldn’t Yoda be proud of me? Yesterday was May 4th. As it happens, this post relates to Hollywood as well as Georgia politics.  Before reading this post I want you to watch a scene from Quintin Tarantino’s most recent film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

I bet you’re wondering how Brad Pitt treating Bruce Lee like a rented mule possibly relates to Georgia politics.

Bruce Lee is regarded by many in the fighting world as either the greatest fighter ever or as a talented fighter ahead of his time but an actor who never competed in competition against the best. I tend to agree with the latter. Everyone who watches “Enter the Dragon” will remember the fight scenes. The Bruce Lee style and his grace had never been seen on camera before. You watch his movies and the takeaway is that man is a master fighter. Even his less famous roles like the one portrayed by Tarantino, Kato in the TV series The Green Hornet, add to his legend.  Owing to his untimely death at age 32, that legacy is secure. We’ll never know if he would have made Cassius Clay a cripple had they ever faced each other. 

Bruce Lee’s image was carefully crafted. He once refused to film a fight scene in which Kato was scripted to lose to Batman’s sidekick, Robin. Ultimately the fight was a draw.  Kato is, unfortunately, what voters on the right seem to be infatuated with over the past few years. Voters are clamoring for something. They say they want a fighter. But what they keep elevating and nominating is a string of Kato characters. Like all Hollywood fighters, members of this Kato caucus have audience-approved (focus group and poll-tested) highly choreographed performances designed to look and sound like a fighter. And that’s the problem. 

While selling their fighter persona has become a full time occupation for some (MTG, Vernon Jones etc.), no one has asked a simple question: Are they effective fighters? 

For legislators, the most common measure of effectiveness is passing legislation that benefits the country and their district; blocking legislation may also be a measure of effectiveness. It is important to consider how the actions and rhetoric of these paper tigers affect their ability to do both. It turns out, yes. Negatively. 

In 2014 researchers from Vanderbilt University released the most comprehensive evaluation of legislator effectiveness to date and continue annual updates. It turns out “legislators who engage in bipartisan activities contribute to reciprocal bipartisan lawmaking relationships, which benefit them as they try to advance their agendas. Regardless of era or institutional position, for Representatives and Senators who seek to become effective lawmakers in Congress, one ingredient in the recipe for legislative success is for them to become more bipartisan in their legislative activities.”

LES: A summary measure that captures how successful a member is at moving agenda items. The average LES is 1.0.
PARTY RANK: The ranking of a House or Senate member’s LES in comparison to all other members of her political party.
BENCHMARK: The expected LES of a member of the House or Senate given her party, tenure, and committee assignments.

Under their methodology, Georgia Rep. Buddy Carter was a workhouse during the first two years of the Trump Presidency. He exceeded his predicted effectiveness score and was ranked most effective in Georgia and 32nd most effective overall. Interestingly, when the Democrats regained control of the house after the midterms, Carter’s effectiveness did not decrease (as most legislators did) during the last two years. Former Rep. Doug Collins also managed to be effective despite being in the minority. Based on his record, it’s likely his Senate run is to blame for his effectiveness score not being higher and the lack of substantive law enacted. Does this mean Carter and Collins are weak and weren’t fighting for what their constituents wanted? Quite the opposite. If you ever attended a Doug Collins speech you would not come away thinking him a weak moderate. The fact he and Carter held steady despite being in the minority should only bolster their fighter credentials. 

The methodology used by the Vanderbilt researchers does not consider blocking or slowing legislation from the opposing party in their measure of effectiveness. This is often a critical measure of success for party leadership. There is but one true master when it comes to this measure of effectiveness: Senator Mitch McConnell. Schooled in the rules of the senate since leaving the womb, Mitch McConnell has been the bane of the progressive movement and democratic agenda since he ascended to party leadership. He is a true fighter. No one thought he could hold his caucus together to deny President Obama a final supreme court pick in 2016. Much of the success of the Trump Presidency can be credited to McConnell. Yet, for so many Republican voters, he is a loser and a wimp. 

Before you vote in the next election, ask yourself one question: how effective is each candidate? A closer look may reveal the champion fighter you thought you were voting for is nothing more than Kato, a fiction designed to capture your attention just long enough every election.


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