The voting record, after all, reflects not only, perhaps not mainly, the policy preferences the politician actually holds. Politicians have to get elected and reelected, and that means that, to a considerable extent, they have to take the positions that will get people to vote for them, and donate money to their campaigns, and work for their campaigns. I suspect the result is that two politicians who are, say, governors of Alaska, will in many respects have similar policies, even if they are from different parties and different ideological backgrounds. So will two politicians who are state senators from the south side of Chicago.
If an ex-state senator from the south side is running against a governor of Alaska, they will have very different records in terms of what they supported and what they voted for. Gun control is a lot more popular in Chicago than in Alaska, hunting a lot more popular in Alaska than in Chicago. But whichever one wins the election—I am ignoring the minor distinction between a presidential and vice-presidential candidate—will have the same job, depend on the same electorate to get reelected. The differences that in large part explain their past record will have mostly disappeared.
So perhaps there really is something to be said for judging character rather than voting record. Doing so makes both candidates look better, at least to me. Obama's voting record is that of a very liberal Democrat. But what I can judge of his actual views, in part from the people around him, in part from his own statements, suggests that he is much less of an ideologue than that record suggests, that he might, for instance, make a serious effort to pull libertarians out of the Republican party, which has not given them much in recent years, and into the Democratic, something I suggested several years ago. He might even try to rebuild the Democratic party around something a little more up to date and relevant than the New Deal.
Similarly for Sarah Palin. As critics have pointed out, her much publicized opposition to earmarks and government spending stopped well short of declining federal money for Alaska when she, as governor, had a chance to get it. But then, that is what one would expect of a governor. Her actions with regard to Alaskan money are perhaps a better measure of how she would act with regard to federal spending if she got promoted out of her present job. And her general style suggests the sort of politician who would be willing to fight, perhaps able to win, against a variety of entrenched interest groups.
Now if I could just forget about those other two... .
Labels: Palin Obama