Most Liberal Fella

In January of this year the National Journal published its rankings of all U.S. Senators. What they found has given Barack Obama his new title: the most liberal Senator of 2007. This was no back-of-the-envelope exercise but a careful analysis by a decidedly a-political outlet of ninety-nine votes. So how was it that Obama beat out such liberal all-stars as Ted Kennedy, John Kerry and Russ Feingold? 

On foreign policy his voting record was nearly entirely liberal. The National Journal reported that “Obama’s liberal score of 92 and conservative score of 7 indicate that he was more liberal in that issue area than 92 percent of the senators and more conservative than 7 percent.” But it that was nothing compared to his domestic policy voting record. The National Journal noted “Obama voted the liberal position on 65 of the 66 key votes on which he voted . . . Obama garnered perfect liberal scores in both the economic and social categories.” A perfect liberal — could there be any doubt that Ted Kennedy would have endorsed him? 

It is worthwhile to look at some of Obama’s votes — a marvel in consistency and unswerving dedication to modern liberalism. There were 36 votes on economic matters that were considered in his rating. These included multiple votes to hike the minimum wage and against requiring higher income Americans to shoulder greater costs for Medicare Part D benefit.  

Then there were the taxes. Lots of them. Raise income taxes? Sure. Oppose repeal of the death tax? You bet. Then there were the efforts to curry favor with Big Labor including measures to subject the Homeland Security Department to unionization and a vote for abolition of secret ballots in union elections. 

But his liberal domestic agenda did not end there. He voted against making English the official language of the U.S. He voted for embryonic stem cell research but against funding for non-embryonic stem cell research. On immigration reform he voted the straight liberal line. But he was crafty enough to “miss” certain key votes that might have proved difficult: confirming Attorney General Mukasey and cutting off funds to international groups involved in coercive abortions for example. 

Obama’s liberalism did not stop with domestic policy. He voted against Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reauthorization. He had fifteen votes which were considered in his ranking to limit funding, impose a deadline for troop withdrawal or otherwise restrict use of U.S. troops in Iraq. He neatly skipped the vote to condemn the attacks on General Petraeus. He voted in favor of extending additional due process rights to military detainees. 

And this was just 2007. In 2005 he came in as the 16th most liberal Senator and in 2006 the 10th most liberal. In short, he started out liberal and moved left in every year.  

And if there are any doubts about this particular ranking system, other interest groups are on to him as well. He sports a 100% rating from NARAL for each year in the Senate (2005-2007). He received a zero rating from National Right to Life. In 2007 National Taxpayers Union gave him an “F.” Americans for Tax Reform gave him a zero in 2005 and a 16 in 2006. The American Conservative Union gave him 8% in 2006. In 2004 based on answers to its questionnaire NRA gave him an “F.” Well, you get the point. 

What is missing in all this? Any indication on any issue of significance, whether foreign or domestic policy, on which he was willing to deviate from the most extreme liberal positions. For example, even when many of his Democratic colleagues voted to confirm Chief Justice Roberts he stuck with the core of 22 of the most liberal Senators to vote against the ABA-rated “well qualified” nominee.

Obama is found of saying that he will usher in a new era of bipartisanship and bridge the divide between the parties. But it is worth asking: why didn’t he do so it in the three years in the Senate and with each passing year move farther from the political center? Did he ever cross swords with any liberal special interest group or reject the entreaties of Big Labor? If his record on union issues (e.g. opposing the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, favoring repeal of NAFTA and seeking repeal of secret ballot union elections) gives you any hint the answer is: never. 

So if you want to know what the New Politics of Obama really is, you only need to look at his record. It’s the Old Liberalism.