Something went by in a blur on the road to Super Tuesday. The National Journal ranked Sen. Barack Obama the No. 1 liberal U.S. senator of 2007. Sen. Hillary Clinton came in somewhat less left-wing at No. 16.
Horrors. According to his press notices, Obama isn't supposed to be any kind of a liberal at all -- let alone "Number One" -- but rather the great non-partisan hand-holder and country re-maker. As in: "We (have to) decide to join hands and remake this country." (My response: Why? It's pretty well-made already.) Turns out he's not so non-partisan after all, at least not according to the, well, non-partisan criteria first devised by the National Journal back in 1981.
Not that you have to be a political scientist to figure this out. Just take a look at Obama's endorsements from MoveOn.Org, Ted Kennedy and more than 80 lawyers representing detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Or his positions on illegal aliens, raising taxes on "the wealthy" or talking Muslim world leaders into taking our side in the "war on terror" (despite the fact that some of them are busy abetting or even waging that same war against us).
Once upon a time, such positions could only be staked out on the far left. With Obama occupying them, however, they become the dreamy landscape of non-partisan epiphany. As the Washington Post campaign blog The Trail noted: "(His) is a platform that, delivered by others, might well be viewed as hewing to long-standing, traditional liberal notions. Yet Obama wraps it into his message of national transformation, making it sound part of a whole new package, and by the time he gets to his trademark crescendo conclusion, every person in the arena is standing ..."
Guess it's not easy to stand and think "liberal" at the same time -- especially with trademark crescendos dancing in your head. The disconnect has served the Obama camp well, allowing it to run far on thin and gaseous vapors of non-partisan "hope" and "change." That's why nobody at Obama headquarters was enthused by Obama's solid ideological victory as Top Senate Liberal for his votes as a leading anti-war senator supporting the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, amnesty for illegal aliens, and a host of liberal initiatives on health care, education, energy and the budget. Such a record sounds downright McGovernesque. But don't mention that out loud. After all, Barack Obama is a presidential candidate who likes to say, "There's not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there is the United States of America." What if it got out that there is also a very liberal Barack Obama?
We don't know the answer to that, because it is "hope" and "change," not liberalism, that Obama is supposed to stand for. Maybe that's why, as Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki told the National Journal, Obama is "the only candidate who's shown the ability to appeal to Republicans and the ability to appeal to independents."
The fact is, being Top Senate Liberal isn't part of the official narrative of the Obama movement. And the campaign seems to want to keep it that way. Dismissing the National Journal senate rankings, Obama spokesman Bill Burton told ABC: "The tendency of Washington to apply a misleading label to every person and idea is just one of the many things we need to change about how things operate inside the Beltway."
Here's hoping we never find out how an Obama administration would "change" freedom of labeling. But misleading? On the contrary, "liberal" aptly describes Obama's point of view (not to mention Mrs. Clinton's). But notice the difference between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to political labels. Republicans struggle over who will wear the "conservative" mantle, while Democrats strike a "Who, me?" pose when it comes to carrying the "liberal" flag. The National Journal put it this way: both Democratic presidential contenders "have emphasized their liberal policy positions. But neither has embraced the liberal label the way Republican presidential candidates have proudly stamped themselves conservatives."
This goes, of course, for John McCain, whose claims to conservatism are unconvincing to many conservatives. Incidentally, the National Journal doesn't help much in this regard. Turns out McCain missed too many votes in 2007 to score a ranking. I'd say that's lucky for him, as he grabs at that conservative mantle. He might have given Sens. Clinton and Obama some pretty stiff competition.