Obama maybe not so liberal after all
by Mike Pridmore, Sat Feb 09, 2008 at 10:36:18 AM EST
Let me be perfectly clear: I want Obama on the Democratic ticket this fall. I want him in the White House for sixteen straight years, eight as VP and eight more as President. So I don't want to bash him in a way that would damage that possibility. What I do want to do is raise questions about whether he actually is as liberal as some of his supporters think. For example, a lot of his supporters tell me they are voting for him because he is more liberal than Hillary, and refer to the recent National Journal ranking as proof. So let's start by discussing that.
National Journal Rankings
As pointed out by Crooks and Liars here, the National Journal rankings are a repeat effort of what they did in 2004 when they said John Kerry and John Edwards were the two most liberal senators. And it takes about as much mental gymnastics, using specific missed votes to skew the ranking, to make that same claim about Obama as it did about Kerry and Edwards. A more realistic estimate, like the one by Progressive Punch here, shows that Obama is actually one of the more conservative Senators, with seven or eight being more conservative than he is.
Pandering to Black Evangelicals?
But my questions about whether Senator Obama is really as liberal as some of his supporters seem to think go beyond the brazen lies by the National Journal. Although he has strong supporters on both a woman's right to choose and on gay rights, I think there is good circumstantial evidence that he has played politics on both issues. And I think in both cases it was an intentional effort to to remain in good graces with black evangelicals.
So let's discuss black evangelicals for a moment. In previous elections, President Bush has used the issues of Gay Marriage and A Woman's Right to Choose and similar hot button issues to peel off enough Black Evangelicals to gain narrow wins in key battleground states. Although Black Evangelicals are overwhelmingly Democratic, they are also very "conservative" on these hot button issues. Earl Ofari Hutchinson did a good job of discussing that here.
Pandering to Anti-Gay Sentiments?
Hutchinson, who knows a thing or two about black evangelicals, believed that the McClurkin incident, prominent use of a known gay-basher, was an intentional pander to anti-gay sentiments among black evangelicals. (link) Markos Moulitsas, who had been leaning toward Obama, also waivered over the use of the anti-gay McClurkin. But he did not seem to see the possibility of this being an intentional pander to black evangelicals.
At the time, neither Hutchinson nor Moulitsas mentioned a previous incident that seemed to show Obama carefully avoiding any photos that might be taken as supportive of gay rights. In the other case, Obama refused to have his picture taken with pro-gay Mayor Gavin Newsom although Newsom was at the event to show his support with Obama. (link) This was in 2004, which might indicate that Obama was also pandering to black evangelicals as a power base in that previous election year.
Avoiding Commitment to a woman's right to choose?
This issue has been prominently discussed in the blogosphere as part of Obama's seemingly non-commital present votes. Senator Clinton has used these present votes to attack his record on a woman's right to choose. But Illinois Right to Choose supporters of Senator Obama said that his vote was part of a strategy they agreed to and in line with what they were asking for. Obama supporters felt that Senator Clinton had intentionally misled voters about Obama's support of a woman's right to choose.
One of Senator Obama's supporters on this issue revealed something that I hadn't seen before and something I don't think most of Senator Obama's supporters have realized: Obama himself, not the Right to Choose supporters, came up with this strategy (link):
"We worked with him specifically on his strategy. The Republicans were in control of the Illinois Senate at the time. They loved to hold votes on 'partial birth' and 'born alive'. They put these bills out all the time . . . because they wanted to pigeonhole Democrats."
Sutherland said Obama approached her in the late 1990s and worked with her and others in crafting the strategy of voting "present." She remembers meeting with Obama outside of the Illinois Senate chambers on the Democratic side of the aisle. She and Obama finished their conversation in his office.
"He came to me and said: 'My members are being attacked. We need to figure out a way to protect members and to protect women,'" said Sutherland in recounting her conversation with Obama. "A 'present' vote was hard to pigeonhole which is exactly what Obama wanted."
Although Obama said that "My members are being attacked," it seems reasonable to question whether right to choose votes might have been causing Obama himself problems with black evangelicals. If so, this is not really a strategy devised by Planned Parenthood and NARAL to thwart a Republican agenda but is rather a strategy devised by a politician to be non-commital on a key liberal issue. That latter view seems to be the one that the Illinois chapter of NOW has taken. (link)