Breaking News: Barack Obama Is A Liberal

This from professional Guiliani hagiographer Fred Siegel. The Essence:

Obama’s achievements in reaching out to moderate voters are largely proleptic: words aren’t deeds. And while he has few concrete achievements to his name, he does have a voting record that hardly suggests an ability to rise above Left and Right. In 2005, his first year in the Senate, the man who made a specialty of voting “present” in the Illinois State Senate refused—despite repeated entreaties—to join a bipartisan agreement among 14 senators not to filibuster President Bush’s judicial nominees. After his first two years in the Senate, National Journal’s analysis of roll call votes found that he was more liberal than 86 percent of his colleagues, and his voting record has only grown more liberal since then. The liberal Americans for Democratic Action now gives him a 97.5 percent rating, while National Journal ranks him the most liberal member of the Senate. By comparison, Hillary Clinton, who occasionally votes with the GOP, ranks 16th. Obama is such a down-the-line partisan that, according to Congressional Quarterly, he voted more often with the Democrats than did the party’s majority leader, Harry Reid.

This is the record that appeals to Ted and Caroline Kennedy and the aging boomers who have long nursed hopes for a renewal of Camelot. But now as then, a charismatic political personality carries more dangers than benefits. The “politics of meaning,” which emerged from the Kennedy years and has now resurfaced with Obama as its empty vessel of hope, is doomed to disappoint because it asks more from politics than politics can deliver. In symbolic confirmation that Obama’s candidacy is as much about the liberal past as about the country’s future, the Grateful Dead, which disbanded years ago, has announced that it will reunite to perform a concert for him.

Implicit in that is the ass-backwards idea that the only important thing about a presidential candidate is their record. This style v. substance argument has been deployed repeatedly against Obama, and the idea that he's a liberal should shock no one. But one doesn't have to be a centrist to become an icon. What people hear in Obama is an optimistic vision for the future, and unwillingness to cede what's right for politics. This is why he gets credit for being right on the warThose qualities are extremely important to policy because they allow you to get things done, and indicate an ability to see something in ideas that may not be your own. This is exactly what we've been missing in the White House.

Furthermore Siegel conflates centrism and non-partisanship. The Clinton years, for all of their centrism, were incredibly partisan times. People don't like Obama because they think he's a centrist, they like him because he projects a respect for people who he doesn't agree with. Everyone wants to believe they live in that America. In that sense, Obama's success is really no more mystifying than Reagan's.