Steve Chapman

I was just getting used to the idea that Barack Obama is an America-hating left-winger bent on socialism and surrender. Then along comes Ralph Nader, who says the problem with Obama is that he's an obedient steward of the status quo, doing the bidding of greedy corporations. Naderites, conservatives and many others agree he's a menace. They just can't agree on why.

Obama has said, in reference to his broad appeal, "I am like a Rorschach test" -- meaning that his admirers have a knack for seeing in him exactly what they want to find. But the inkblots work the other way, too: People who dislike him have detected a multitude of reasons to justify their animus.

To Hillary Clinton's supporters, he was always a dreamy innocent who would be ground up by the Republican attack machine. To some critics, he's a sleazy Chicago pol. When he ran for Congress against a black incumbent, he lost because some voters thought he was too white. In some primary states this year, some voters thought he was, well, not too white.

By the time this campaign is over, he'll be called everything but a child of God. Some of it will be true, some of it will be false and much of it won't matter.

One of the favorite Republican themes will be labeling him the most liberal senator, as ranked by the National Journal. Now, it's true that Obama -- how to put it? -- votes eerily like a Democrat. But it's hard to believe he's really more liberal than Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Chuck Schumer, Barbara Boxer, Russ Feingold or Bernie Sanders.

By more comprehensive measures, he's not. According to one scholarly analysis of all non-unanimous votes, Obama is only the 10th most liberal senator. Still, there is no doubt he's a liberal of one shade or another. If he's elected, you should not expect a reduction in taxes, spending, regulation, federal power or Birkenstock sales.

Obama insists his views are more complicated than simple labels convey. But while McCain has often defied his own party's orthodoxy, Obama has declined to do so.

As liberals go, however, opponents of Big Government could do worse. On economic matters, like the mortgage crisis, he's more respectful of property rights and free markets than, say, Clinton. His health care plan rankles many liberals because it doesn't force everyone to buy insurance.

While Obama has criticized various free-trade agreements, he's also written that in today's world, "it's hard to even imagine, much less enforce, an effective regime of protectionism."

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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