Ideology: Bush vs. Kerry
Northwestern University political scientist Jeffery A. Jenkins [jamesotb – otbblog] has an interesting piece in the Chicago Tribune on the issue.
Ideologically, where does President Bush stand? Some liberals contend that he is an extremist, more conservative than Ronald Reagan, a proponent of rolling back the many social and economic reforms of the New Deal and Great Society.
At the same time, some conservatives argue that he is an advocate of expanding the federal government, typified by the recent huge expansion in Medicare, and is thus out of step with the laissez-faire brand of economics that underlies traditional conservatism.
Bush is positioned near the dividing line between the center-right and right quartiles of the party. So, while clearly right of center, he is not part of the most conservative segment of the party, anchored historically by the likes of Sens. Phil Gramm and Jesse Helms.
He is considerably more conservative than Dwight Eisenhower and Gerald Ford, somewhat more conservative than Richard Nixon, slightly more conservative than his father, George H.W. Bush, but less conservative than Reagan.
What about Kerry, the would-be president?
Should he become president, what should we expect? How does this left-leaning moderate compare to other recent Democratic presidents?
In fact, only Lyndon Johnson appears more conservative than Kerry; Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton appear slightly more liberal; and John F. Kennedy, to whom Kerry is often compared, appears considerably more liberal than the Massachusetts senator trying to follow in his footsteps.
The problem I have with Poole’s coding methodology is that it’s excessively time bound. To compare Bush 43 to Reagan or Kerry to Carter ignores massive shifts in public opinion during those time periods. The “center” is not a spot on a map; it’s a median of current attitudes. I’d think the ACU/ADA ratings are much more useful than Poole’s, since the comparison is made against one’s contemporaries. What matters in terms of the current cycle is how Bush compares to Kerry, not how either compares to historical figures from a bygone era when different issues predominated. Indeed, the main example given in the Poole piece was the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Essentially every member of both Houses of Congress would support that legislation today.
No prominent Republican is currently arguing that homosexuals shouldn’t have the right to cohabitate. Indeed, virtually all even argue that homosexual couples ought be permitted most of the benefits of marriage; the debate is merely over the actual use of the label “marriage” to describe that relationship. During Jimmy Carter’s administration–or, indeed, Ronald Reagan’s–that would have been a position advocated by only the most extreme leftists.
By contrast, there is no serious Democrat arguing for the equivalent of a nuclear freeze today. All of the significant contenders for the presidential nomination believed war with Afghanistan was the right action after 9/11 and much of their criticism of Bush for the Iraq war is that it diverted resources against killing terrorists. Similiarly, on the economic front, all but the most extreme Democrats at least pay lip service to the idea that tax cuts stimulate the economy; the debate is merely about how to target them to screw over “the rich.”
Update: Chris Lawrence clarifies the methodology in question. My interpretation based on the article and a quick readthrough of Poole is a bit off. Jeff Jenkins offers further clarification of his arguments in the comments below and makes a very cogent point about the limitations of the methodology for comparing presidents to legislators in Drezner’s comment section.