Opinion: Obama and Clinton, liberal and growing more so


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Democrats these days don’t like to use the ‘L’ word much. Its connotation of give-away government is harder to market. In fact, a search of almost all Democratic debates in this presidential season did not produce one utterance of that word by any of the candidates. Sen. Hillary Clinton says she prefers ‘progressive.’

But such preferences do not apply to the National Journal, which has just released its political rankings for 2007. And someone we’re all coming to know a bit better by the day -- Barack Obama -- was just named today as the most liberal Democrat in the Senate for 2007 based on 99 votes.

In fact, he was more liberal last year than in his first two in the Senate, when he ranked 16th and 10th.


Now, you may ask, what about Obama’s opponent in tonight’s Democratic debate? How’d she vote? Well, she too voted more liberal last year than....

in past years, moving up from 32d most liberal in 2006 to 16th place last year, just behind her New York colleague, Charles Schumer.

Clinton’s least liberal year -- let’s see, that would also make it her most conservative year -- was 2004 when she had a liberal score of only 71 to rank 34th among Democrats. Her most liberal year was 2003 when her score was 88.8 and she ranked 8th most liberal.

Obama’s scores show him growing increasingly liberal by the year from 82.4 in his freshman year of 2005 to 86 in 2006 and to last year’s 95.5 liberal score. Despite such a little-known top ranking, his campaign claims he’s shown the ability to attract independent and Republican voters. The GOP candidate in the general election campaign may seek to change the ‘little-known’ liberal perception of Obama’s background.

If tonight’s debate viewers --- and those watching in this now year-long campaign -- have difficulty discerning much difference between Obama and Clinton, they’re very good observers. There isn’t. In fact, of 267 measures they voted on last year, the pair differed on only 10, according to the National Journal.

These annual rankings may make it more difficult for either of them to move toward the center of the political spectrum as general election candidates must.

Now, about John McCain, the current Republican frontrunner and the only surviving senator in the field: Well, he missed more than half the votes in two of the National Journal’s three categories -- foreign policy and economic issues. So McCain did not receive a composite score.


However, in social issues he earned a 59 conservative score, which may help explain some of his difficulties with the GOP conservative base and some of his appeal to independents.

But wait a minute! Rep. Ron Paul, the only other surviving legislator in the presidential fields, got little better in his conservative score -- 60.2. His middle-of-the road votes in social and foreign policy issues combined with his slightly more conservative economic votes to rank the 10-term Republican as only the 178th most conservative House member.

And he was the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate in 1988!

--Andrew Malcolm