The Kenyan Muslim Socialist Usurper is just a Run of the Mill Moderate-to-Conservative PolPosted: February 7, 2012
Yup, Obama is a run of the mill moderate. We’ve been saying this for years but Keith Poole’s Voteview has a better methodology for estimating presidential positions on a left-right scale since 1945. Every one in left blogistan is talking about that and not our joint intuitions and research. The VoteView site actually has an interesting way to look at Political Polarization of elected officials and shows that the Republican Party has been moving rapidly to an ultra right position recently. We’ve also said this. I can’t believe how many Birch Society positions are now “mainstream” in Republican circles. However, the Republican party asked for it when they courted Dixiecrats and the KKK away from the old style Dem party and were simultaneously usurped by religious radicals. State Republican parties make the Taliban look reasonable. Just come down here to the South or go to the middle of the country. You would think the good old days of slavery were back in vogue. The current crop of primary tap dancers only shows how extreme the party’s base has become. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich can’t lie about their past lives fast enough. They also seem to subscribe to the idea that when you repeat lies enough, they become truth.
Our findings here echo those discussed in a prior post that Republicans have moved further to the right than Democrats to the left in the contemporary period. Indeed, as seen below, President Obama is the most moderate Democratic president since the end of World War II, while President George W. Bush was the most conservative president in the post-war era.
So, this result is interesting on many levels. First, Dubya has to be the most hated president since Nixon if not for longer than that. His policies were and still are extremely unpopular. That’s why the right is running on Reagan’s supposed rhetoric but not Reagan’s more liberal policies. Remember, Reagan rescued social security. Dubya wanted to privatize it. Reagan engaged the Soviets. Dubya bombed the shit out of two countries he didn’t like. The other thing this shows is that moderate Obama is being labelled things that are outright lies. This probably indicates the power of Fox News, the Koch Brothers money, and the current Republican fascination with denial of reality and truth. Obama has basically stayed out of congressional politics. Ezra Klein paraphrases some of Poole’s findings. DW-Nominate is Poole’s methodology for sorting out votes via measuring political coalitions.
DW-Nominate rates presidents by processing Congressional Quarterly’s “Presidential Support” index, which tracks roll-call votes on which the president has expressed a clear position. The system then rates the president by looking at the coalitions that emerged in support of his legislation. In essence, it judges the president’s ideology by judging the ideology of the president’s congressional supporters. So how, in an age of incredible congressional polarization, could this system rank Obama as a moderate?
There are a few answers. One, says Poole, is that Obama is very careful about taking positions on congressional legislation. In the 111th Congress, he only took 78 such positions. Compare that with George W. Bush, who took 291 positions during the 110th Congress, or Bill Clinton, who took 314 positions during the 103rd Congress. So part of the answer might be that, with the exception of high-profile bills such as health-care reform, Obama is hanging back from most of the congressional squabbling.
I wanted to share others’ thoughts on the Poole analysis. Digby basically says the findings confirm “why liberals are frustrated”. In deed, the real left wing of the Green and Democratic Parties do not like Obama’s policies at all. This is something completely lost on Republicans in la la land.
Paul Krugman–ever the wonk–focuses on Poole’s methodology. This is something that bears reviewing. It shows how Nixon’s southern strategy and the politicization of christofascists has changed party dynamics.
I’ve long been a great admirer of the work done by Poole and his collaborators. What they do is use roll-call votes to map politicians’ positions into an abstract issue space. You can think of this as a sort of iterative process: start with a guess about how to rank bills from left to right, use that ranking to place politicians along the same spectrum, revise the ranking of bills based on the politicians, and repeat until convergence. What they actually do is more complicated and flexible, and allows for multiple dimensions; but that sort of gets at the general idea.
And it turns out that US politics really is one-dimensional, that once you know where politicians stand on a scale that clearly has to do with taxation and the size of the welfare state, you can predict their votes very well. There used to be a second dimension, clearly corresponding to race; but once the Dixiecrats became Republicans, that dimension collapsed into the first.
Exzra Klein does some longer analysis of the findings along with his usual Beltway Bob spin. Can’t he just quit the man crush thing for a bit?
Obama’s financial rescue effort was largely a continuation of the Bush administration’s policies. He resisted calls to nationalize or break up the big banks, modeled his health-care reform bill after legislation that Republicans had proposed in Congress and Mitt Romney had passed in Massachusetts, extended the Bush tax cuts once and intends to make most of them permanent, signed legislation cutting domestic discretionary spending to its lowest level in decades, and supported the same sort of cap-and-trade plan that John McCain once introduced in the Senate. Obama’s presidency has been ambitious and it’s been polarizing, but in terms of the policy it has produced, it’s been much closer to the market-based approach of Clinton than the forthright reliance on government of LBJ.
Republicans, however, can and should take partial credit for this. Obama is so moderate in part because the Republicans are so extreme. Politicians are ideological, of course, but they are also opportunistic. And the GOP, in closing ranks against almost every major initiative Obama has attempted, has taken away most of his opportunities to be truly liberal. The fight to get to 60 votes in the Senate has ensured, over and over, that Obama must aim his legislation at either the most conservative Democrats or the most moderate Republicans. In this, Obama has only been as liberal as Sens. Ben Nelson and Scott Brown have permitted him to be. And that’s not very liberal.
That’s left Obama a moderate president in an immoderate time. For progressives, that moderation has been a continued frustration. For conservatives, it’s been obscured by a caricature of the president as a free-enterprise-hating socialist. And for the White House, it’s been a calculated strategy. We’ll know in November whether it was the right one.
I’m probably an archetypical independent these days. I’m gravitating towards Obama not because I like anything he’s done, but because Mitt Romney can’t seem to speak with out lying and Gingrich, Paul, and Santorum represent what is undoubtedly the WORST thing about this country. All of their positions are straight from either the christofascist or Confederate states of America playbooks. I can’t for the life figure out what it is–other than personal promotion–that drives Mitt Romney. His do anything, say anything brand of politics frankly makes Obama look like a reasonable choice. Plus, the more I find out about Romney’s personal decisions–like baptizing his outspoken atheist father-in-law post mortem–is horrifying. The dog on the roof struck me as the most inhumane act I’d ever heard until I read about his Stake President lectures to women in Vanity Fair. The man seems capable of speaking out and out lies with no sign of remorse or self-realization at all.
So, here we are together between the Barack and the Willard Hard Place. We’ve got the shallow boyfriend who offers us promises he never intends to keep and the preppy boyfriend who’ll tell us anything if we just give him that blow job. What a freakin’ choice that is.