Throw it out there and see if it sticks!
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
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