Over at OTB, Steven Taylor posts on a claim by political scientist Keith Poole that "President Obama is the most ideologically moderate Democratic president in the post-war period ...." Taylor goes on to opine the study suggests "that the notion that Obama is especially liberal (let alone a socialist of some stripe) is an indefensible position to take from an empirical point of view."
This post and the underlying study raised all my hackles about empirical scholarship. Empirical analysis all too often is flawed by GIGO, design errors, selection bias, and a host of other problems. In tis case, for example, trying to map Presidential statements to Congressional votes looks like a process fraught with potential errors. In addition, as the study authors themselves note, Obama's scores are pulled to the right by his foreign policy positions, which almost everyone agrees have been remarkably like those of his predecessor in a surprising number of respects. Guantanamo is still open. Obama's drones are busy killing all over the Islamic world. Throw out his foreign policy scores and on domestic issues Obama doubtless would shift substantially to the left.
And then consider what the second inaugural address tells us. James Fallows opines of "Obama's Startling Second Inaugural" that:
This was the most sustainedly "progressive" statement Barack Obama has made in his decade on the national stage. ... [he] has won re-election and knows he will never have to run again and hears the clock ticking on his last chance to use the power of the presidency on the causes he cares about.
Or consider Reihan Salam:
I’m glad that I read President Obama’s Inaugural Address in lieu of listening to it live. Back in 2004, after his keynote address to the Democratic National Convention, I wrote an op-ed for the New York Sun arguing that Barack Obama was more left-wing than was commonly understood at the time. Specifically, I made the case that he saw the public sector as the prime vehicle for the values of solidarity and community in American life. And in this most recent speech, the president collapsed the distinction between collective action and government action again and again, very much in keeping with social-democratic thinking.
Obviously, Obama is no socialist. But ask me if I think he's a (surprisingly militaristic) social democrat and you'll get an affirmative answer, which in my book makes him a lot more of a liberal on domestic issues than any other modern Democratic president.