The often sensible Washington Post editorial board came up with a howler yesterday when it argued that, notwithstanding Barack Obama's ranking by the objective National Journal as the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate in 2007, it is "not clear" whether Obama is "a liberal at heart" or "more of a centrist." The Post's main evidence for this alleged lack of clarity is laughable. It notes that Obama declined to filibuster the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court. But, as Ed Whelan retorts, no Senator voted to filibuster Roberts; there was no cloture vote in that instance. In the absence of a filibuster, Obama did the next best thing; he voted against the Roberts nomination, even though half of his fellow Democratic Senators (few of whom can be called centrists) voted for confirmation.
Moreover, Obama did join in the unsuccessful filibuster of Samuel Alito's nomination. He thereby once again joined with most left-wing portion of his party's Senators. Thus, in Whelan's words, "no Senator was to Obama's left" when it came to the Roberts-Alito confirmation wars. It's similarly apparent from the National Journal's ratings that no Senator is to Obama's left generally.
Until this election cycle, a Senator's voting record was always considered the best evidence of his position on the political spectrum; nor were rhetorical flourishes ever counted as countervailing evidence. The Post's willingness to make an exception for Obama constitutes deception, the only question being whether the editors are deceiving themselves as well as their readers.
Indeed, the emphasis put upon Obama's rhetoric seems to be the key. Many people presumably are working under the idea that they know he's a moderate because he SAYS he is, and all contrary evidence be damned.
This prompted me to post the following on another site:
Is moderateness (or reasonableness) a matter mostly of style or substance?
Lets say you have two theoretical candidates A and B (and really, dont think of one as Obama and the other as McCain)
Let’s say candidate A is a U.S. Senator who holds positions that are ideologically pure, but is generally an affable fellow who tries to get along with his political opponents while NOT compromising with them because he is committed to his principles. He often complains about the growing incivility of Washington, but he would never change the legislation he wants if he could ever avoid it. If that means ramming an agenda via partisan lines, so be it. “That’s political reality,” he often says “It’s nothing personal.” He famously invites everyone over to his house for a BBQ every spring.
Let’s say candidate B is a US Senator who isn’t an ideologue at all, but instead she most often attempts to pull support from the center of both parties to meet legislative goals, even if that means differing from the bulk of her own party. Let’s also say she is often combative, castigating the ideological wings of both sides as being detriments to the well being of the country. When called on this her favorite response is “Hell, I don’t care what those jerks think.” She famously never makes it to Senator A’s BBQ, because she holds a grudge over a parliamentary maneuver that stopped a vote on legislation she felt was vital for the well being of the country. “Goddammit,” she stated, “This country should come before anyone’s ideology.”
To my mind it is a no brainer which of these two would be a more moderate candidate if substance is valued more highly than style, and vice versa. To my mind it should not matter if Candidate A is an Arch conservative or a high-minded liberal, or if candidate B is nominally a member of the Democratic or Republican party…I think B would be preferable to my own sensibilities as a middle-of-the-road guy.
Now, I don't think my hypothetical Senators are perfect analogs for our present choices, but I know who I think has a clear edge in substance given these choices.
I don't think a press committed to presenting the Democratic and Republican nominees fairly would be able to support Obama's pretense to moderateness in a general election.
So let's see how fair the press is. Based on what we have already seen from the New York Times, I'm guessing the answer will be closer to "Not so much," than not.