Demo­crat can­di­dates’ cen­trism is all talk

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Don­ald Lam­bro

When Sen. Hil­lary Clin­ton, New York Demo­crat, be­gan to read­just her cam­paign rhetoric to rein­vent her­self as a born again cen­trist, few both­ered to check out whether she had shifted right­ward in her vot­ing record, too.

With rare ex­cep­tions, she hadn’t. Her rhetoric had changed around the edges, as when she talked about find­ing com­mon ground with right to life ad­vo­cates. But “her vot­ing record on abor­tion is­sues didn’t change one iota,” said an of­fi­cial at the Na­tional Right to Life Com­mit­tee.

Yes, the New York Demo­crat had voted for the Iraq war res­o­lu­tion (as did other Democrats like Sen. John Kerry of Mas­sachusetts). And she votes for the de­fense ap­pro­pri­a­tions bills, and a free trade bill here and there, but the rest of her votes have been over­whelm­ingly left-wing.

Who says so? None other than Amer­i­cans for Demo­cratic Ac­tion(founded by Eleanor Roo­sevelt and Hu­bert Humphrey), the keeper of the party’s lib­eral flame and a yearly lib­eral scor­ing in­dex on con­gres­sional votes.

Mrs. Clin­ton scored a per­fect lib­eral rat­ing of 100 per­cent from the ADA in 2005. So did Barack Obama, the fresh­man sen­a­tor from Illi­nois who, af­ter two years in the Se­nate, now wants to be pres­i­dent of the United States. Their 2006 scores, which will be out shortly, will be close to those grades.

Mr. Obama’s cen­trist-sound­ing cam­paign speeches, in­spir­ing per­ora­tions for com­pro­mise, unity and bi­par­ti­san­ship, have pro­pelled him to his party’s front ranks. He now runs close be­hind Mrs. Clin­ton in some of the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial pref­er­ence polls.

But his non­par­ti­san tone be­lies a far more lib­eral agenda on a wide range of do­mes­tic and na­tional se­cu­rity is­sues (he ran against the Iraq war in his 2004 cam­paign and looks to gov­ern­ment as the an­swer to ev­ery ill that con­fronts us).

In the broader scheme of things, both now head a field of Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls that are point­edly and uni­formly more lib­eral than the na­tion at large — rais­ing alarm bells else­where in the party.

The shift didn’t get the at­ten­tion it de­served, but the lineup tilted fur­ther to the left when for­mer Vir­ginia Gov. Mark Warner and In­di­ana Sen. Evan Bayh dropped out of the race for the 2008 nom­i­na­tion. Both men, with a deeper range of ex­ec­u­tive ex­pe­ri­ence than most of the pres­i­den­tial wannabes, were re­spected ad­vo­cates for a cen­trist agenda on na­tional se­cu­rity and do­mes­tic poli­cies. Their de­par­ture from the pres­i­den­tial arena left be­hind a field of far-left con­tenders for an of­fice Democrats have won in only five out of the last 14 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.

That wor­ries mod­er­ate-lean­ing party strate­gists like for­mer Min­nesota Rep. Tim Penny, who fears this will al­low lib­eral can­di­dates to use or ex­ploit the rhetoric of mod­er­a­tion with­out ac­tu­ally em­brac­ing the

Hil­lary Clin­ton and Barack Obama now

head a field of Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial

hope­fuls that are point­edly and uni­formly

more lib­eral than the na­tion at large —

rais­ing alarm bells else­where in the party.

cen­trist poli­cies them­selves.

“If you don’t have a gen­uine mod­er­ate in the race, it al­lows lib­eral can­di­dates to put on the mask of mod­er­a­tion be­cause there’s no cer­ti­fied mod­er­ate to com­pare their rhetoric to re­al­ity,” Mr. Penny told me.

Mr. Warner, a pro-busi­ness Demo­crat hawk­ish on de­fense is­sues, and Mr. Bayh, a pop­u­lar two-term gov­er­nor from a heav­ily Repub­li­can state who chaired the cen­trist De- mo­cratic Lead­er­ship Coun­cil, won lit­tle sup­port from a party now in the grip of the an­ti­war left.

“With­out them in the race, it leaves us with­out di­ver­sity on the cam­paign trial. That also leaves us in a cir­cum­stance where the re­main­ing can­di­dates will be more lib­eral than the main­stream vot­ers and will not be chal­lenged as ag­gres­sively [as they would be] if Bayh or Warner were in the race,” Mr. Penny told me.

Demo­cratic cam­paign strate­gist Alan Se­crest also ac­knowl­edges their with­drawal “prob­a­bly does leave the field some­what more lib­eral.” But “I don’t think it’s fair to say they left the race hav­ing con­cluded that a cen­trist can­not win,” he adds. “It wasn’t ide­ol­ogy that drove Warner and Bayh out of the race. It was the per­son­al­i­ties in the race they were up against — per­son­al­i­ties like Clin­ton and Obama that of­ten over­come ide­ol­ogy,” he said.

How­ever, an­other Demo­cratic cam­paign ad­viser cau­tioned that as left wing as the field is now, “the con­ser­va­tive na­ture of the elec­torate has not changed. It’s still rel­a­tively con­ser­va­tive. Peo­ple like Obama and Clin­ton know where the bound­aries are in the elec­torate. I don’t think it means rac­ing off the cliff to the left. It means ap­peal­ing to the cen­ter once they win the nom­i­na­tion.”

Even so, he added, “In the short­term the pack is more lib­eral than it was.” That is demon­stra­bly clear right now. Al Gore is more fiercely lib­eral on eco­nomic and na­tional se­cu­rity is­sues than he was in 2000. All the oth­ers also play deep into left field. Mr. Kerry’s score is 86 per­cent. Sens. Chris Dodd and Joe Bi­den score 79 per­cent and 77 per­cent re­spect­fully. Ohio Rep. Den­nis Kucinich is nearly off the charts at 92.5 per­cent. Com­pared to th­ese and other con­tenders, Mr. Bayh’s more cen­trist score was a milder 61.9 per­cent.

So the les­son in 2008 for dis­cern­ing cen­trist Demo­cratic vot­ers is this: Beware of all that mod­er­ate­sound­ing rhetoric from the can­di­dates. Check out their vot­ing record first.

Don­ald Lam­bro, chief po­lit­i­cal correspondent of The Wash­ing­ton Times, is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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