Friday, January 25, 2008

Ideological Positions of the Candidates

Probably the biggest meme going around right now is that John McCain's just a bleeding-heart liberal, no better than Hillary Clinton.

Of course it's not true. Folks are entitled to their views, of course, but for many brain-addled, anti-McCain talk-radio Rush-bots, there's little of practical reason that might break through the prejudice.

But I'll make a stab anyway: Take a look at this chart, from Andrew Kohut,
over at the New York Times. I just love this graphic!!!

I'm getting a kick out of it, mainly because this is Political Science 101. I draw this image on the chalkboard every semester when I cover political ideologies, particularly during classrooom discussions on the differences between Democrats and Republicans.

Although it's quite common for people to chant, in exasperation, "there's not a dime’s worth of difference between the parties," in truth the American political parties offer dramatically different ideological orientations and policy programs. The U.S. does not have a tradition of multiparty democracy and true radicalism, as in European history. But our distinct culture of individualism and markets is often challenged quite vigrorously by left-wing preferences for expansive governmental intervention (i.e., the Great Society), and more recently by the upsurge of postmodern leftism following the cultural and rights revolutions in the 1960s.

But look at the graph: For all the fulminations against McCain and Huckabee and the alleged threat they pose to the GOP, it's interesting that the median voter clumps McCain, Huckabee, and Mitt Romney all together - nice and neat - on the right of the spectrum (hint: the right wing's conservative folks). Indeed, Huck's further to the right than is Mitt Romney, to whom many conservatives gravitated following the withdrawal of Fred ("Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act") Thompson.

We need to send some talk radio hosts back to school!

But what's even more important is that John McCain's position on the right of the scale rests closer the country's media voter, and hence the hypothesis from this spatial model is that while he's conservative, he's more likely to capture moderate-to-liberal voters in a general election matchup against the eventual Democratic nominee.

what Kohut says about John McCain's ideological placement, and his general election electability:

In a national Pew survey conducted in January, voters were asked to judge the political ideology of President Bush and each of the leading Republican and Democratic candidates. While President Bush, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney were placed on the far right end of the ideological scale, John McCain and Rudy Giuliani fell in the middle — where voters placed themselves. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were considered liberal — and placed about as far to the left of voters as President Bush was to the right.

The same poll found that independents like Senator McCain better than other candidates from both parties. Sixty-five percent of independent voters expressed a favorable opinion of the Arizona senator. Almost as many independents rated Senator Obama favorably (59 percent), but only 4 in 10 of independents gave Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Edwards, Mr. Romney, Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Huckabee a positive rating. And keep in mind that independents have been deciding the winner in recent presidential elections....

All other things being equal, Senator McCain appears to be the G.O.P. candidate best able to run a competitive race against the Democrats in the fall. But the challenge for any Republican will be to appeal to the conservative.
I mean no disrespect with this analysis, although I can hear some conservative whiners now? "Oh, Kohut's just a liberal," or "don't listen to those MSM lies."

Such responses (or others, likely to be less diplomatic) are emotional, and hence irrational.

I commented on this today in my earlier post, "
Conservative Fears in Election '08":

A few previously respectable conservative commenters here have frankly become unhinged at the prospect of McCain securing the GOP nomination.

But I hope this post clarifies the point for those who are confused.

John McCain's compromised on some big issues of public policy, often reaching across the aisle to legislate with some of the most reviled big-spending Democrats in Congress. We can question that bipartisanship - and McCain can be criticized for excessive pragmatism - but this tendency alone doesn't make him a liberal.