Voters
should know how the presidential candidates represented their
constituents – and party ideology – by the numbers, instead of campaign
rhetoric. The National Journal crunches those numbers, and they just
released this report.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., was the most liberal senator
in 2007, according to National Journal’s 27th annual vote ratings. The
insurgent presidential candidate shifted further to the left last year
in the run-up to the primaries, after ranking as the 16th- and
10th-most-liberal during his first two years in the Senate.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., the other front-runner in the
Democratic presidential race, also shifted to the left last year. She
ranked as the 16th-most-liberal senator in the 2007 ratings, a
computer-assisted analysis that used 99 key Senate votes, selected by
NJ reporters and editors, to place every senator on a
liberal-to-conservative scale in each of three issue categories.

This is straight information based on the record. How important it is probably depends on who’s reading it.

The yeas and nays matter. And in a Senate in which
party-line votes are the rule, the rare exceptions help to show how two
senators who seemed like ideological twins in 2007 were not actually
identical. Obama and Clinton were more like fraternal policy twins,
NJ’s vote ratings show.

As the battles for the 2008 Democratic and Republican presidential
nominations have raged, the candidates have blasted each other for
taking positions that are out of line with party dogma.

And yet, they don’t quite put it in those words…

As Obama and Clinton have wooed Democratic primary
voters, both have emphasized their liberal policy positions. But
neither has embraced the liberal label the way that the Republican
presidential candidates have proudly stamped themselves as
conservatives.

That’s true. Liberals don’t call themselves liberals, though ”party
dogma” is liberal. And even though conservatives are all over the place
right now with their driving principles, they eagerly embrace the
conservative identity.  

In Obama’s first splash on the national stage, as
keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, he
disparaged ideological labels as weapons used by partisans who have
little else to offer. “Even as we speak, there are those who are
preparing to divide us, the spinmasters and negative-ad peddlers who
embrace the politics of anything-goes,” he said. “Well, I say to them
tonight: There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America —
there is the United States of America.”

That sounds good in a convention speech, but it’s a rhetorical line
and a well turned phrase. There actually is a liberal America and a
conservative America in the United States, and that’s what this battle
for the presidency is over – which ‘worldview’ will prevail.

Take a look at how the National Journal assembled the ratings report.

Members who missed more than half of the votes in any of
the three issue categories did not receive a composite score in NJ’s
ratings. (This rule was imposed after Kerry was ranked the most liberal
senator in our 2003 ratings despite having missed more than half of the
votes in two categories.) Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the only other
senator whose presidential candidacy survived the initial round of
primaries and caucuses this year, did not vote frequently enough in
2007 to draw a composite score. He missed more than half of the votes
in both the economic and foreign-policy categories.

Which begs the question…..why did Sen. McCain miss all those votes? Maybe that will come up in the campaign going forward.

The voting record of each candidate should be scrutinized, though some will want to downplay it.

Asked about the question of ideology in this year’s
campaign, Democrats generally said that most voters do not focus on
labels such as “liberal” and “conservative.”

Democrats running campaigns, anyway.

Republicans, however, insist that they can make hay by
showing how liberal the Democratic nominee is. “Senator Obama’s voting
record, from what I have seen of it, tends to be very left-leaning,”
said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. “I saw Senator Kennedy’s endorsement of
him as both an acknowledgement of that similar ideological view, but
also — perhaps just as significant — that he represents the future and
[Clinton] represented the past.”

In the general election, Cornyn said, the ideological differences
between the Republican and Democratic nominee “would be certainly a
stark contrast.” Drawing that distinction “would be important to
present to people,” he said, adding that notwithstanding Obama’s appeal
“really across party lines,” his ideology “would be certainly what the
election would focus on.”

Graham, a McCain supporter, was equally adamant that ideology would
be very important. Whether Clinton or Obama is the nominee, Graham
said, the differences between the two parties’ candidates on taxes,
judicial nominees, and war policy would be significant. “I mean, there
would be big, huge thematic differences,” he said.

So…two questions. Will liberal candidates define liberal ideology
and stand on it? And, will John McCain explain why he missed so many
votes?

Informed voters want to know these things.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....