I called Obama a far leftist the other day and a friend scoffed, saying he was a mainstream Democrat.
That Obama has voted for mainstream Democrat positions while in the Senate does not make him mainstream. He voted for these positions because that was the most liberal way he could possibly vote. If there were measures up for a vote which were to the left of mainstream Democrat thought, I suspect he would vote for them. But he doesn't because he can't.
As of yet there has been no bill debated by Congress which would turn this country into a Cuban style communist state, nor any measure calling for reparations for descendants of slaves. This doesn't mean that there are no members of Congress who would support such bills.
Take another example: Tom Hayden, Jane Fonda's ex, a member of the Chicago Seven. He was a U.S. congressman from California whom most would call a leftist. When in Congress he voted with the Democrats. This does not make him a mainstream Democrat; he simply voted that way because that was as far left as he could vote.
David Duke may be an even better example. When he ran for the Louisiana legislature, he did so as a Republican. His platform was anti-affirmative action (every state referendum around the country banning such has passed), workfare for welfare recipients (which Clinton himself recommended), and increased drug testing. While in the Louisiana legislature Duke voted with the Republicans on virtually every issue. This does not make him a mainstream Republican. Had there been a measure calling for segregation, I have no doubt Duke would have voted for it. But there was no such measure, so he couldn't.
Back to Obama. In college he, by his own admission, sought out Marxist professors. Later he attended Reverend Wright's church for seventeen years. And he befriended William Ayres, the unrepentant bomb thrower. These are not moderate people. The fact that they were his allies and friends speaks volumes. It is true that while in the Illinois legislature Obama had a reputation for being able to work with Republicans to get legislation passed. This just means he was pragmatic. He showed this pragmatism when it came to being elected President, rushing to the center as soon as he had beaten Hillary for the Democratic nomination and eschewing the public funding limitations. He even embraced AIPAC, giving them a speech which made him sound to the right of Netanyahu on Israel, when nothing in his past -- including his friendships with Rashid Khaliki and Edward Said -- would lead one to believe that he was anything but pro-Palestinian. Does his speech to AIPAC make him a Zionist? No, it merely makes him a guy who will say what he must to get elected.
One argument for Obama being mainstream was that in 2007 he voted for FISA, which allowed the government to wiretap phone calls from abroad to prevent terrorism. This is a measure which a fair number of Democrats opposed. Does this mean that Obama has had a change of heart and wants to rescind the privacy laws in order to go after the Muslims this country is at war with? I think the more realistic interpretation is that he knew he would be running for President and that one of his weaknesses would be that he would be perceived as soft on terrorism, so once again, he did what it took to get elected.
Now that he's in office, he'll move the country as far left as he can, which is as far as the mainstream Democrat majority in Congress will allow him. The mood of the country has shifted, and he definitely has a mandate. He'll probably end up with mainstream Democrat legislation. Again, that doesn't make him a mainstream Democrat.
Note that I'm not equating Obama with Duke, I'm merely making a point. Nor am I passing judgment here on his positions -- I have a sneaking sympathy for a few socialist positions, and I hope we withdraw as quickly as possible from Iraq -- I'm merely trying to get the description accurate. Obama is a good family man and liked by those who know him personally. He is also unquestionably a leftist, even if he pretended not to be during the campaign.