Obama and Clinton agree to agree to agree to…

Who’s more liberal, Clinton or Obama? One quick way to rate the liberal/conservative-ness of members of Congress is to check their ratings with the American for Democratic Action, the long-standing liberal advocacy group and the American Conservative Union, which holds a similar place in the conservative world.

In 2006, the last year for which full ratings are available, Barack Obama got a 93 percent ADA rating and an 8 percent from the ACU. Hillary Rodham Clinton, by contrast, got a 93 and an 8. Oops, no help there.

Want to measure their relative anti-Bushiness? The gold standard there is the Congressional Quarterly presidential opposition scores (where they identify key votes on which the White House took a position and rate how often a member of Congress agreed or disagreed. In 2007, Clinton out-anti-Bushed by 65 to 60 percent. In 2006, it was Obama by 51-50. In 2005, it was Clinton by 69-67. Both candidates had higher anti-Bushiness scores than the average Democratic senator in all three years.

(I need to pause before I get any deeper into an act of theft here. I didn’t compile these statistics, or the ones that follow. David Nather of CQ Weekly just published a terrific piece comparing the voting records over the three years that both Clinton and Obama have been in the Senate. It’s titled “The Space Between Them.” CQ Weekly stories are normally not available to non-subscribers until the Thursday after publication but as a special favor to Black Ink and MinnPost readers, someone at CQ provided us this link, which will get you Nather’s outstanding compilation a day early.)

How about partisanship? Both candidates claim to have a record of working across party lines, and both can point to issues on which they partnered with a Republican. But day in and day out, both were well above average in their tendency to vote the party line. The gold standard here again is CQ’s party unity score, in which they identify every vote on which the majority of Dems voted one way and the majority of Repubs voted the other. Your party unity score is the percentage of those cases in which you voted with your own party line. In 2007, Clinton out-party-lined Obama by an utterly insignificant 98-97 percent. In 2006 it was Obama by 96-93. And in ’05, it was Obama by a whopping 97-96.

You getting the picture? These two agree on just about everything except which of them should be the Democratic nominee.

It’s not just the scores. The CQ editors compile their own annual list of key votes from a wide range of topic areas. Over the past three years, Obama and Clinton both participated in 38 such votes. They agreed on 35, haven’t disagreed on one since July of 2006. Nather provides the list of the three, which were on whether FEMA should be removed from the Homeland Security Department (Clinton said yes, Obama no), final passage of the 2005 Energy bill (they talked about this one in the Nevada debate last night: Obama said he voted for it because it provided a lot of incentives to develop green energy resources; Clinton opposed it because it had too many tax breaks and other favors for the big gas and oil companies); and a 2005 vote on bill to limit class action lawsuits by forcing the most-expensive into federal court (Obama was one of 18 Democrats who supported the business-backed bill, Clinton and the majority of the Democrats voted against the bill, which was opposed by consumer groups and the trial lawyers lobby).

In my emphasis on the astonishing level of agreement between the two, I left out above the one interest group rating in which there was actually a bit of air between Obama and Clinton. In 2006, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave Clinton a 67 percent rating, Obama a 55.

On the other hand, I left out their AFL-CIO rating above. My buddy Tom Hamburger just filed a fine L.A. Times piece (registration required) about how organized labor is unusually divided this year in the Democratic race. Perhaps the fact that Clinton and Obama scored 93 ratings from the AFL-CIO in 2006 helps explain why it’s not any easy call for labor.

If any of this tells you what you need to know to decide between the leading Dem candidates, more power to you. Perhaps it tells us more about why the campaign between them is being waged on the basis or abstractions, like “change” and “experience,” or on the subliminal question of which race/gender barrier you feel more motivated to break.

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