A Tuesday morning eye-opener: A front-page Times headline actually identified Barack Obama as a liberal - "Obama's Test: Can a Liberal Be a Unifier? " Reporter Robin Toner went on to describe Sen. Obama as someone "whose voting record was, by one ranking, the most liberal in the Senate last year."
Toner also made an observation, rare in media circles, that the Obama-Clinton fight is a scrap between two liberals, while admitting that liberals are reluctant to call themselves liberals (the Times has never been crazy about the L-word either).
A recent analysis of key votes by The National Journal concluded that Mr. Obama had the Senate's most liberal voting record in 2007; Mrs. Clinton ranked 16th. But of the 267 measures on which both senators voted, the National Journal analysis found that they differed on only 10. One of their major differences came on an amendment that called for the designation of the Revolutionary Guards in Iran as a terrorist organization; while Mrs. Clinton supported it, Mr. Obama missed the vote, but said he opposed it.
Congressional Quarterly said Mr. Obama voted with his party 97 percent of the time on party-line votes last year; Mrs. Clinton did so 98 percent of the time.
Still, many of Mr. Obama's supporters say he has recognized this new political climate in a way that Mrs. Clinton has not. They say he is ready for a new, self-assured era in which progressives (few have returned to using the word "liberal") make no apologies about their goals - universal health care, withdrawing troops from Iraq, ending tax breaks for more affluent Americans - and assume that a broad swath of the public shares them.