Discussing that Pew data I mentioned earlier, which shows that the public's perception of a candidate's ideological stance often bears little resemblance to their actual ideological stance, Matt hits on a deep point:
... this is both terrible news for Clinton (as I wrote with Sam it would be crazy for liberals to choose the least-liberal available nominee when she's also seen as the most liberal choice) and also seems to call into question the "unquestioned brilliance" of Mark Penn. His strategy has been for Clinton to stake out an increasingly conservative issue profile to win the general election. It seems, however, that issue profiles don't do much to alter perceptions of public figures.
For an example of what this means in practice, consider this passage from Larissa McFarquhar's Obama profile in the current New Yorker:
Obamaâs voting record is one of the most liberal in the Senate, but he has always appealed to Republicans, perhaps because he speaks about liberal goals in conservative language. When he talks about poverty, he tends not to talk about gorging plutocrats and unjust tax breaks; he says that we are our brotherâs keeper, that caring for the poor is one of our traditions. Asked whether he has changed his mind about anything in the past twenty years, he says, âIâm probably more humble now about the speed with which government programs can solve every problem. For example, I think the impact of parents and communities is at least as significant as the amount of money thatâs put into education.â Obama encourages his crossover appeal. He doesnât often criticize the Bush Administration directly; in New Hampshire recently, he told his audience, âIâm a Democrat. Iâm considered a progressive Democrat. But if a Republican or a Conservative or a libertarian or a free-marketer has a better idea, I am happy to steal ideas from anybody and in that sense Iâm agnostic.â âThe number of conservatives whoâve called meâroommates of mine, relatives who are Republicansâwhoâve said, âHeâs the one Democrat I could support, not because he agrees with me, because he doesnât, but because I at least think heâll take my point of view into account,â â Michael Froman, a law-school friend who worked in the Clinton Administration and is now involved in Obamaâs campaign, says.
Now objectively, this is silly. Obama is clearly to the left of Hillary Clinton, and while being rhetorically open-minded is a nice quality in a President, it's not much of a substitute for being substantively closer to the center. But you know what? I'm a conservative, I know that Obama is to Hillary's left on most issues, and even so I often find myself feeling exactly the same way as Michael Froman's Republican friends.
Fortunately, Bruce Bartlett is keeping his head.