March 27th, 2008
03:20 PM ET

Is Obama too liberal?

Throw it out there and see if it sticks!


He says he's a progressive... a post-partisan uniter. But others brand Barack Obama with the L-word. Is he "too liberal" to be President? Watch Randi Kaye's report 360° tonight, 10 ET

That’s what some say Barack Obama’s critics are doing by labeling him a “liberal.”

A recent study by the National Journal found Obama has the most liberal voting record in the Senate. His democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, was ranked 16th, even though out of 267 votes, they only differed on 10. Obama’s camp says Hillary Clinton is subject to the same critique. It’s also worth noting, the study itself is being criticized for counting many votes Obama missed while campaigning and skewing the results.

So the question is, with Obama’s promises to reach across the aisle and bridge black and white, young and old, Republican, Democrat, and Independent, can he do that if he’s viewed as a Liberal?

Obama wants to end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, enact a national health plan, offer a $4,000-a-year tuition reimbursement in exchange for national service, and have the government intervene to prevent home foreclosures. He would go a step further than Clinton by lifting the limit on income taxed for Social Security, now $100,000, to set the program on firm footing. This burden on the well-to-do will become an obvious target if he's the nominee.  He also strongly supports abortion rights and favors allowing illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses.

But don’t call him a liberal, his supporters say!
In Austin Texas, here’s what he told them about that label: " ' Oh, he's liberal, he's liberal. Let me tell you something.' There's nothing liberal about wanting to reduce money in politics. That is common sense. There's nothing liberal about wanting to make sure [our soldiers] are treated properly when they come home... There's nothing liberal about wanting to make sure that everybody has healthcare. We are spending more on healthcare in this country than any other advanced country, but we've got more uninsured. There's nothing liberal about saying that doesn't make sense, and we should so something smarter with our healthcare system."

Obama’s campaign spokesman, Bill Burton, has told reporters in the past: “Obama isn't rejecting liberalism so much as labeling. I think he's been pretty clear on this, as he's laid out from his '04 convention speech until now, that these attempts to divide Americans by these old labels are counterproductive. There may be people on the left side of the spectrum and people on the right side of the spectrum, but they all want to change America."

So what if he is liberal, or progressive, as some like to call it?   Does that mean he can’t successfully reach across the aisle?

Obama has built his campaign on a break from politics as usual and a new approach in Washington. Has the landscape changed enough for him to succeed? Democratic strategists argue the country has shifted left because of President Bush’s actions, including the Iraq war.  This week, Obama told the New York Times, “What I'm certain about is that people are disenchanted with a highly ideological Republican Party that believes tax cuts are the answer to every problem, and lack of regulation and oversight is always going to generate economic growth, and unilateral intervention around the world is the best approach to foreign policy. So there's no doubt the pendulum is swinging."

Presumptive Republican Nominee John McCain has called Obama a “standard-order left-winger” and a “down-the-line liberal." Even before Obama’s speech on the economy today, McCain released this statement: “No amount of rhetoric can hide Senator Obama's clear record of embracing the liberal tax and spend, big government policies that hit hardworking American families at a time when they're most vulnerable, and are certain to move America backward.”

Peter Wehner, a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, told me, “I think its going to be difficult to make the label stick. Obama in his countenance and his manner and his whole presentation comes across as anti-ideological and reasonable. He sounds like he gives fair consideration to all different points of view on a question.” Then Wehner added, “His disadvantage is when you pin him down on the issues, he's a total liberal. Taxes, Iraq, Regulation.  Still, Obama is a difficult figure to pin down, such a formidable candidate. It doesn't work to just say liberal, liberal, liberal, you have to make the argument.”

What might work in Obama’s favor is that he had John Edwards running to his left in the primary, which made him look moderate by comparison. And in the general election, if he’s the nominee, he’s close to McCain on several major issues, including climate change, immigration and campaign finance reform.

His multi-racial background may help, too. Analysts say his “nontraditional biography” automatically allows for voters to “reframe what he’s offering.”

– Randi Kaye, 360° Correspondent

Filed under: Barack Obama • Randi Kaye • Raw Politics
soundoff (65 Responses)
  1. mike (sc)

    after eight years of this idiot george bush and the threat of him living on for a third term with a mccain win , i say its time for a change bush looked out for his rich pals and gave to them at our expense!!!. I dont care what these right wing delusional nuts that believe that they are the ones entitled to be rich and screw the rest . But i belive that we have a duty to care for the elderly, the poor and the people that have mental illness and our kids and with G.W we got none of that we got justice just( us) bush and his minions. I say we need change and if obama wants to help the little guy for a change i say god bless him and he will get my vote.

    March 28, 2008 at 3:33 pm |
  2. Stephen Normand

    I believe Mr Obama is a good man based on his contribution of $20,000.( as stated in in IRS statement) to his church, which he seldom attends and doesn't always agree with the teaching of it's minister. I have never been blessed with such a parishoner in my years of ministry as an anglican priest. I admit I have never preached as famously as Mr. Wright though and I do wonder where the love of Jesus is in all of this?

    March 28, 2008 at 3:12 pm |
  3. Shepard


    The name "Frank" referenced in Sen Obama's book has been identified as poet and well known marxist Frank Marshall Davis who mentored Obama from 1972-1987, while living in Hawaii. Why isn't the media
    interested in Obama's well documented socialist connections?

    Campaign workers for Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama are under fire for displaying a flag featuring communist hero Che Guevara. But Obama has his own controversial socialist connections.
    He is, in fact, an associate of a Chicago-based Marxist group with access to millions of labor union dollars and connections to expert political consultants, including a convicted swindler.

    Obama's socialist backing goes back at least to 1996, when he received the endorsement of the Chicago branch of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) for an Illinois state senate seat. Later, the Chicago DSA newsletter reported that Obama, as a state senator, showed up to eulogize Saul Mendelson, one of the "champions" of "Chicago's democratic left" and a long-time socialist activist. Obama's stint as a "community organizer" in Chicago has gotten some
    attention, but his relationship with the DSA socialists, who groomed and backed him, has been generally ignored.

    March 28, 2008 at 12:43 pm |
  4. Deepak D

    Is it true that Obama is former cocain user? If he has, will his liberal stand push to legalization use of cocain? How can he be tugh on cocain smugglers if he himself uses cocain? Someone needs to ask him these hard questions, will you do it AC??

    March 28, 2008 at 12:29 pm |
  5. Gary Chandler in Canada

    Here's a news angle which will break in November.
    The Clinton's are giving the Obama's presidential campaign a boost.
    In the way the stock market has already 'adjusted' when bad news releases, it is going be difficult for the Republicans to launch a tougher attack camaign than what the Clinton's have thrown out.
    Just think how it started. Hillary said Barrack would not be able to survive the Repiblican Attack Campaign, just before she launched it. LOL
    2 points on this.
    1. It is brilliant strategy on the part of the Democrats. The Republican attack campaign will be 'old news'.
    2. The Republicans are licking their chops at the thought of going up against Clinton. Their attack campaign on her will be about someone who should not be talking on the phone at 3 am because it affects her memory and character.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:47 am |
  6. Dee from Canada

    What? Trying to get away from Pastor Wright like Obama wants? Anderson, you've changed. Obama has you sucked in too. Obama is NOW saying 'if Wright wasn't retiring, I would have left the church'. Does this mean that Wright has been retiring for 20 years? Wright hasn't retired! Why is Obama saying he was and has? Also, Oprah said 'just because your a women, don't feel you have to vote for a women'. But did she say 'just because you are black, don't feel you have to vote for a black.' Oops, sorry, I'm being so nasty about mr. nice guy, mr. wonderful, brilliant, whimpy, oops, sorry again.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:46 am |
  7. This whole thing

    Liberal? conservative...it's all a bunch of crap!
    If someone represent the good of all people, the health and welfare of all people. Peace and a world united through peace and a belief of global humanity. I don't give a damn if they are conservative or liberal these words are only use by American people to divide us and separate us from the true issues of our lives!

    March 28, 2008 at 10:41 am |
  8. This whole thing

    You know what pisses me off about this country and racism. It is never consider a racial attack/difference when black people conform or don't disagree to what white people consider right! The policies of this country have basically been control by white males and white big business. These policies have continuously destroyed the honor and credibility of The United States of America in the EYES of THE WORLD! The staus quo American opinions of what country are good countries, what governments we should support, who's political position is acceptable to the US government, what ethnic positionsshould the US support and protect and what religions and reliogious beliefs are acceptable by the US government. These qualifications and warped opinions have put the whole world and all other people except American in jeopardy and harms way. The world "KNOWS" that the United States government and the United States military has NO regards to human life. Has no regards to justice and has no regards to anyone's opinion except those who can profit for the US involvement in foreign conflicts. So now, I ask the question, since the people of the United States and the government of the United States has declared war on ANYONE in the world who does not agree with US policies, or go along with being a US lackie. Why should people NOT speak out against these human rights violations, spiritual rights violations, social rights and rights of life violations and that are perpetuated by the United States government and supported by the general US populous. It is proven US policies is serious dangerous to the future of the world and the future of our country, so if someone says this or that is wrong, why shouldn't people listen especially when we as American ARE SUFFERING at the hands of people controlling our government that would prefer to have us hidden in their pockets vs. standing on a street corner shouting out about their continued injustices. The United States government and the United States people DO NOT have absolute rights to control the lives, religions, beliefs, politics and right to chose the means of life of the people of the world.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:39 am |
  9. Dee from Canada

    Obama, Obama! It really doesn't matter what anyone calls him, a liar, racist, liberal, smooth talker, inexperienced, no original ideas, etc, etc. everyone justs dismisses it or somehow blames Hillary Clinton. Good God, what is the matter with Americans? Obama is laughing at you.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:12 am |
  10. maurice jamall

    Those damn tax-and-spend liberals!!!! Er... that's what governments do. They tax and they spend. To what degree is relative. But honestly! Why is it that the media never call the Republicans on this? ALL governments tax the people and then spend that money as they see fit. Schools vs Wars. It's your choice America.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:08 am |
  11. maurice jamall

    I am a British citizen. I come from a Muslim background. I have been scared of American and Americans ever since 9/11. (I was not involved; I did not celebrate the crime). In Obama I see hope. He inspires me like no British PM since Michael Foot has inspired me. If you guys don't choose for your next president a man who is clearly aching to serve his country, then you deserve to be fooled twice. If you guys can't appreciate him, then I'll take him, thank you very much. You have a once in a generation opportunity. Don't blow it! Is he too liberal? No. But–and I'm sorry to have to say this–but he may just be too good to be true for you. I worry that too many Americans want the status quo, or rather have become comfortably numb.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:04 am |
  12. Lan

    You won't see CNN running a segment asking: "Is John McCain too conservative?" or "Does John McCain's ignorance about Sunni and Shia in the Middle East disqualify him to be Commander in Chief?" And you won't see hours on end devoted to exposing the hatefulness of the fundamentalist preachers whose endorsements he eagerly sought, like the one who called the Catholic Church a "whore" and the one who said 9/11 and Katrina were God's punishment of America's fault for its sinfulness.

    CNN is in the tank for McCain, and they're going to try to stick the "black candidate" label on Obama. Never mind the McCain is the "white candidate."

    March 28, 2008 at 9:45 am |
  13. charlie doherty

    Anderson, Randi Kaye and Candy Crowley did not do your homework tonight: Obama is tied with Joe Biden as the 10th most liberal Senator in the U.S. Senate, according to a popular study by political scientists Keith Poole and Jeff Lewis.

    Read and report on this study: http://voteview.com/sen110.htm

    Anderson and co., the National Journal rating on Obama is flawed, like you said. It considers, for example, the vote on passing the 9/11 recommendations to be a "liberal" issue when it was clearly bi-partisan, as was the 9/11 Commission's report.

    And Candy Crowley is a lazy journalist; she says Obama has no record of cooperating with Republicans in the U.S. Senate. Just go to Obama's Wikipedia page: there you will find that he has helped to pass ethics(/transparency) reform with Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn and a bill to reign in nuclear and conventional weapons with Indiana Republican Dick Lugar. It was dubbed the "Obama-Lugar" bill. He also co-sponsored an immigration bill that John McCain introduced to the Senate in 2005.

    So Crowley, Kaye and Cooper, shame on you for not doing your homework on Obama and for not reporting that John McCain has been accused (rightly) of being a moderate-to-liberal himself in the last 9 or so years (and until he planned on running for president).

    The point is, Obama definitely has a bipartisan track record. The AC 360 team simply didn't look hard enough to find it.

    March 28, 2008 at 12:03 am |
  14. Ken - Tennessee

    Obama is too everything. He tells us everything we want to hear and how. “Through hope we can accomplish anything.” Well, maybe he needs to have a little faith that is not associated with racial rhetoric. It seems his statements are conflicting with his actions. Toughen up Barack... stop being so sensitive. The American people are far more intelligent than you give credit.

    March 27, 2008 at 11:38 pm |
  15. Tommy

    The way this Country has been going, I'd prefer a liberal candidate, what's wrong with liberal? Liberal or corporation opps I meant conservative.

    People aren't buying this liberal foolishness anymore Anderson!

    March 27, 2008 at 11:36 pm |
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