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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Regardless of his ranking among Senate liberals, Obama is the Most Dangerous Liberal in America

Ramesh Ponnuru on The Corner links Josh Patashnik at The New Republic, who — contra the ranking by National Journal, which tagged Obama as the "Most Liberal Senator of 2007" — links a "separate and more elaborate ranking system, developed by highly regarded political scientists Jeff Lewis and Keith Poole," which asserts that Obama is merely "the 11th most liberal senator in 2007 and 21st most liberal in the previous Congress." Patashnik's key sentence (link in original, bold-face mine):

Obama clearly belongs to the party's liberal wing rather than its centrist contingent — he's essentially said as much — but he's not close to being the Senate's left-most member.

Most of Patashnik's piece is devoted to criticizing the National Journal's system for ranking, and some of his criticisms are probably valid. I'm not embracing that system, nor the Lewis and Poole system, and indeed, I'm intensely skeptical of them both.

For one thing, Lewis and Poole rank John McCain as being more conservative than either of my home-state senators, and that's ridiculous. In the non-mathematical, entirely subjective Beldar Index, McCain's leadership of the group of GOP senators who capitulated to Democrats in the Gang of Fourteen deal on judicial nominees, for example, counts a whole lot more than a "typical" Senate vote, even though the joke of a written agreement memorializing that deal wasn't itself counted as a floor vote. So, too, the Beldar Index gives disapproving weight beyond just the floor votes cast to  McCain's leadership on so-called "comprehensive immigration reform" that would have granted effective amnesty to illegal aliens without ensuring border security first. But both of those episodes are indeed genuine, undeniable examples of McCain actually "working across party lines" — something Obama claims to champion, but has actually never done in the U.S. Senate, at least not at any risk to his standing in his own party.

(A third example, on which I actually agreed with McCain, was his championing the cause of normalization of relations with Vietnam during the Clinton Administration; his Democratic Party counterpart in that effort, John Kerry, took no risk of political heat from that, but McCain certainly did, and to this day there are POW families who fervently insist that McCain "sold them out.")

I've often faulted McCain for lack of consistent adherence to conservative principles, but I've never faulted him for lack of courage. Contrast that to Obama's astonishing number of "present" votes as an Illinois state senator. Contrast that to Obama's craven refusal to cross MoveOn.org, dKos, and the other Angry Left netroots in any important respect before he'd sewn up the Democratic nomination.

Nevertheless, there certainly have been quite a few GOP senators who've been consistently to McCain's left — Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME), Gordon Smith (R-OR), and Arlen Specter (R-PA) immediately pop to mind, and good arguments can be made for a handful of others. Are there also Democratic senators who have been to Obama's left on a more or less consistent basis? I don't think so. The Beldar Index gives Obama at least a tie for "Most Liberal" along with Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Tom Harkin (D-IO).

But I don't think it actually much matters whether Obama has been "the Most Liberal Senator." Frankly, he's never been effective as a leader in the Senate. However liberal a member of the Democratic Party's "liberal wing," he's never led that wing in any successful endeavor, and in fact, since 2007, he's missed so many votes that as a practical matter, he's been among the liberal senators who are least dangerous to conservative causes.

What's important is simply this: Both on matters of domestic policy and national defense/security, Obama is absolutely, positively, and without any doubt the most liberal of the major-party presidential nominees. In terms of his practical real-world dangerousness, once he became a major party's presidential nominee, Barack Obama catapulted over liberal Senate lions like Kennedy, silly liberal House wannabes like Nancy Pelosi, bloated has-been liberals like Al Gore, and other ruthless liberal would-be presidents like Hillary Clinton.

Regardless of his rank among Senate liberals, Barack Obama is now the Most Dangerous Liberal in the United States. And that's the bottom-bottom line of the 2008 presidential election.

Posted by Beldar at 12:48 PM in 2008 Election, McCain, Obama, Politics (2008) | Permalink

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Comments

(1) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Jul 29, 2008 4:44:15 PM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: The article you link to has Obama casting 4000 votes in the 7 years 1997-2004, of which 130 were "present" votes. High? I don't know. It would be interesting to compare other Illinois State Senators voting records for this period to Obama's. Would also like to know what votes Obama cast "present" on, i.e. were they controversial and in what way.

I think you are right to be suspicious of the Lewis/Poole model. We must acknowledge that judging degrees of liberality or conservatism is always going to be more of an art than an exact science. Further, I think the "how liberal is he" is less important than examining what The One has done. Your posts on The One's shiftlessness as a subcommittee chair have been splendid. Another example would be what he has written. His books are about a) his favorite topic, a mirror with his lip prints all over it or b) the world in general. There's no great depth of thinking here, save on his favorite topic. That shows great concentration to the exclusion of all else. But there's no real area of expertise in Obama's career, hence when he tries substantive writing, the notions are shallow. To be sure, this is true of most books written by presidential candidates. THE AUDACITY OF HOPE is no more shallow or silly than, say, Billyboy and Good Al's PUTTING PEOPLE FIRST. But those two at least thought long and hard, if idiotically, about what they might do. Obama seems to have nothing beyond collecting all the merit badges. I think there's a real danger of him waking up the day after Election Day and saying, "Now what?" Good advisers around him could help, but the gang around him arouses horror and dismay, not reassurance. This answer to what he reads is not reassuring either:

"Q: Do you ever find time to read? What kinds of books do you try to make time for? What is on your nightstand now?
A: Unfortunately, I had very little time to read while I was writing. I'm trying to make up for lost time now. My tastes are pretty eclectic. I just finished Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, a wonderful book. The language just shimmers. I've started Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which is a great study of Lincoln as a political strategist. I read just about anything by Toni Morrison, E.L. Doctorow, or Philip Roth. And I've got a soft spot for John le Carre."

(From his Amazon interview on the publication of THE AUDACITY OF HOPE.) This is a list of merit, but quite narrowly focused. Characteristically, The One can only praise the "shimmering language" instead of any subtance to his preferred reading. Morrison in particular is likely to elicit cheers for her novels, while her venomous tracts on politics, e.g. RACE-ING JUSTICE ENGENDERING POWER, are just bawlings for payback a secular Original Sin that can never be slaked. Since thinking people already have doubts about The One's claims to be post-racial, particularly where his wife is concerned, such a choice of reading material doesn't assauge doubts.

Vote for the Grumpy Old Man.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

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