Moderation in Style or in Substance?

David Brooks in a back-and-forth with Gail Collins says:

At the moment, I feel politically closer to Barack Obama than to House Minority Leader John Boehner (and that’s even while being greatly exercised about the current health care bills). On the other hand, I feel politically closer to Lindsey Graham than to Henry Waxman.

As Isaac Chotiner observes, this doesn’t really make sense:

Henry Waxman will likely end up voting with Barack Obama well over 90% of the time (Obama had a more liberal voting record in the Senate than Waxman does in the House). Meanwhile, Lindsey Graham might sound like a moderate but according to the 2007 rankings, he was solidly in the middle of the Republican caucus.

My hunch is that Brooks prefers Obama’s style and attitude to Boehner’s — just as he (Brooks) prefers Graham’s moderate tone to Waxman’s more visible partisanship. But senate votes matter to people’s lives, and I have the suspicion that if Brooks paid more attention to them, rather than to the personalities of Washington politicians, he might find himself drifting leftward on the political spectrum.

Exactly right.* Tastes differ. Some people like the genteel ways of the Senate compared to the cutthroat partisanship of the House. Others feel that Senators act like self-important blowhards and respect the gritty determination of the House. But that’s just about personalities. On the big issues of the day, Graham and Boehner are very similar (no carbon pricing, no tax increases for any reason, neo-Hooverite approach to the recession) and Obama and Waxman are also very similar. And these positions on the issues matter. A lot. These are literally life and death differences for many people.


*I wouldn’t rely on National Journal rankings, personally, but just about any system would reach the right conclusion.