A series of events increased Obama’s liberal credibility over the past few days. First, he was endorsed by MoveOn.org after the PAC’s members voted 70% to 30% to support Obama over Clinton. This endorsement should be accompanied by a multi-million dollar campaign by MoveOn to help the Illinois Senator — not that Obama has any financial problem at the moment. Second, Obama was endorsed by the LA Times who wrote in its editorial, “In the language of metaphor, Clinton is an essay, solid and reasoned; Obama is a poem, lyric and filled with possibility.”
Furthermore, Obama was ranked the Senate’s most liberal member in the National Journal’s yearly rankings. That number has been ridiculed by many who have taken a look at the rankings, however, as Obama has missed a third of the votes that were used to rank the candidates. The rankings record whether how many times a senator has taken the liberal position on a floor vote and missed votes are entirely excluded from the rankings.
Since the Senators who were campaigning for President often only returned for high-profile party-line votes, that had the effect of pushing all the Democrats to the center. Joe Biden, for example, came in third and is supposedly more liberal than Bernie Sanders; Biden has always been a centrist force in the Senate. Furthermore, Clinton and Obama have only differed on two actual votes they have taken among those both candidates have participated in. But while Clinton has participated in 82 votes the National Journal has taken into account, Obama was on the floor for only 66 of those — and he missed some very high-profile and controversial votes, including the Kyl-Lieberman amendment and the “John Doe” Act.
Today, Obama drew fire from the Left, as the defining issue was once again health care. Clinton advisers blasted the Obama campaign (one staffer used an over-the-top Nazi analogy that another one quickly disavowed) for this stunning health care mailer that has been sent to Democratic households:
Obama’s criticism of mandates for undermining individual choice has long been criticized as a right-wing talking point. But the image used in this mailer brought back memories of the Harry and Louise ad that aired in 1993 blasting HillaryCare. In the ad, a couple is seen struggling to pay the bills and burdened by the health care costs imposed by the Clinton plan (you can watch the ad here). The American Prospect’s Ezra Klein posts an image from the 1993 ad which looks very similar to Obama’s mailer:
Not only is the imagery the same, but even the clothes the couples are wearing echo each other. Paul Krugman did not hesitate to accuse the Obama campaign of having deliberately copied the Harry and Louise ad. Remember, that ad was part of the Right’s campaign to destroy Hillary’s plan by characterizing it as “socialized medicine” and in that it awakes particularly painful memories for progressive voters. Krugman, who has not been shy in his criticism of Obama and wrote a series of columns on mandates at the end of last year, immediately blasted the mailer, calling it “ugly:”
Sorry, but this is just destructive — like the Obama plan, the Clinton plan offers subsidies to lower-income families. And BO himself has conceded that he might have to penalize people who don’t buy insurance until they need care. So this is just poisoning the well for health care reform. The politics of hope, indeed.
Krugman has long criticized Obama for preparing the arguments the Right will use next year if a Democrat tries to pass universal health care. And that concern was at the forefront of Krugman and Klein’s criticism today, as both worried that this kind of attack would make it impossible for Democrats to achieve a broad reform next year. Klein detailed explanation of why a health care plan needs to incorporate some mandate to function is a good read for those who want to get up to date on what this debate is all about. And for those who critisize Krugman for being too focused on criticizing Obama and who regard his columns as Clinton endorsements, most of Krugman’s columns over the past few weeks have made it obvious that Krugman was leaning towards Edwards and that he is speaking today in the name of former Edwards supporters who are unsure of where to turn.
That brings us to the main problem this mailer could cause for Obama. This week has been all about the hunt for the votes of former Edwards backers. But John Edwards’s health care plan included mandates, and the candidate had dueled with Obama on the trail in the past few months on this issue. This latest development could make it more difficult for Edwards to endorse Obama as he might have been looking to do. And even if he chooses to do so, will his supporters necessarily follow? Many progressives are unsure of where to turn now that Edwards has withdrawn and are looking for any clues, so this is the worst possible time for Obama to be hit for using “Harry and Louise” imagery.