Barack Obama, U.S. senator
Supporters, or at least believers, in a Barack Obama presidential campaign have grouped around single theme: Mr. Obama will — how is much harder to explain — transcend partisan politics in ways reminiscent of an FDR, JFK or Ronald Reagan. For argument’s sake, we’ll assume the fiction that these presidents were non-polarizing figures. The myth of all is that each managed to appeal to most of the country in a nonideological way, neither liberal nor conservative, Republican nor Democrat.
With a relatively unknown candidate like Mr. Obama, the most skeptics can do to effectively counter this argument is look at his meager legislative record to find clues as to what kind of president he might make. We turn to his two years in the U.S. Senate:
The nonpartisan National Journal gives Mr. Obama an 82.5 liberal rating in the Senate. For comparison, National Journal gives Sen. Hillary Clinton — the other most-talked about Democratic presidential wannabe — a 79.8 rating.
For 2005, the liberal Americans for Democratic Action gave Mr. Obama a 100 percent rating, as did the AFL-CIO. ADA’s conservative counterpart, the American Conservative Union, gave him a 8 percent rating.
The anti-tax National Taxpayers Union gave Mr. Obama an F for his 2005 votes, which isn’t surprising for a senator who has voted with his party 97 percent of the time.
In 2005, Mr. Obama voted with the American Civil Liberties Union 83 percent of the time and 100 percent of the time the way the liberal environmental group League of Conservation Voters liked.
As with his Illinois state Senate days, the impression one gets from Mr. Obama’s brief tenure as a U.S. senator is that he is an unabashed liberal. And one would be right. But Mr. Obama only rarely talks like a liberal and he hasn’t done much for the cause of liberalism. Al- though a longtime critic of the Iraq war, Mr. Obama hasn’t been as vocal as, say, Rep. Jack Murtha. Although he voted against Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, Mr. Obama hasn’t staked out much territory on judicial issues like abortion or homosexual “marriage.” In fact, Mr. Obama hasn’t done much at all on any particular issue aside from obediently follow his party. His self-deprecating explanation is that he is a first-term senator just learning the ropes.
For now, Mr. Obama’s trick of voting like a liberal and talking like a moderate is working. But if he truly envisions himself in the mold of presidents his supporters so often compare him to, eventually Mr. Obama will have to take a stand. Until then, he’s just another Democrat who’s more liberal than Hillary Clinton.