Eric Alterman on How Liberal President Obama Is

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In this Moyers Moment from Moyers & Company, Bill Moyers asks Eric Alterman to rank President Obama as a liberal on a scale from 1-100. The answer — and which Republican former President scores higher — may surprise you.


BILL MOYERS: On a scale of one to 100, as a measure of where someone stands, where do you put Obama as a liberal?

ERIC ALTERMAN: With-- with 100 being who?

BILL MOYERS: Roosevelt.

ERIC ALTERMAN: I put him about about 30.


ERIC ALTERMAN: 35. Yeah. In today's society, I would put him at about 55-60.

BILL MOYERS: Why the difference?

ERIC ALTERMAN: Because as a society, we've moved incredibly further to the right, since Roosevelt's time. So that Richard Nixon is more liberal than -- personally, not, but as president -- he's more liberal than Barack Obama. All of the plans he put forth. He was more liberal than Bill Clinton. His health care plan was a better--

BILL MOYERS: Richard Nixon?

ERIC ALTERMAN: Yeah, oh, yeah.

BILL MOYERS: As president, right?

ERIC ALTERMAN: Yeah, yeah, Obama-- Obama is really quite similar to Dwight Eisenhower. Both in terms of the role of government and how government should be -- well, what it can accomplish. You know, this really interesting thing about-- that I hope I do justice to -- in this book, which is that when Obama became president and he passed the stimulus program, and people -- liberals -- were criticizing him, he said, "What are you talking about? This is the largest government intervention in the economy we've had since Eisenhower."

And then when he did the deal with -- the deficit deal -- just last year, he bragged that this was the smallest government involvement in the economy since Eisenhower. So he made exactly the opposite argument he made, that he thought he was getting elected to do.There's something about our society. And I don't think it's really the country. I think it's more our politics. I think our politics are much further to the right than the country is. And that's -- you know, that's an important fact. But there's something about our political system, dominated as it is by money and by corporations and by the elite media that beats down the liberalism in Democratic presidents.

Watch the entire conversation between Moyers and Alterman.

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  • Philip Boxell

    Richard Nixon created the EPA by Executive Order and opened China. What has Obama done in a thoughtful, forward looking, egalitarian manner about climate change? And how has he treated China? Remember Nixon acted well before the planet became in dire straights or China after 1978. Bill Clinton gutted federal environmental by delegating authority to the states under the Reinvent G’ Act so Romney Care could cut it another 30 to 50%. Patrick, Clinton, Obama are more Hooveresque that Ike Like. Sachs documents this well in The Price Civilization.

  • Fsturgell

    He’s done plenty about climate change. 
    He raised the CAFE standards for the first time in decades. 
    He resurrected GM & the Volt to keep GM on a renewable energy path.
    He gave loans to many solar and wind corps. when banks dried up to expand that industry as it has become more efficient.
    He expanded NREL and steered them in a direction to help entrepreneurs innovate and grow start-ups.
    He has ordered many coal plants to shut down.
    Is everything perfect?  No, but the path is there instead of in reverse.

    China.  He has expanded trade throughout Asia. 
    He has done much for China to stop its games on exploiting our currency, which will still take longer to correct, but the path is finally there.

    If you think you’re going to get everything with this do nothing congress, the worst of all time, you are mistaken.

  • Darby

    I have to agree with Eric Alterman.  As much as I found Nixon personally distasteful (and overlooking for the moment that he was a war crininal), on domestic issues he was more liberal than any president after him (so far).  Bill Clinton bears a lot of responsibility for shifting what used to be considered far-right more to the center.

  • Nevrln619

    I’d rank him about twice as high. He deserves to be rated within his own time and that is clearly as challenging or more so than even Roosevelt’s. It is impossible to know how awful things would have been had he not been able to do what he did. That is his dilemma. He probably has achieved in the face of severe adversity on the Supreme Court and in the Congress, a lot more than it appears to be.

  • Rodrigo Samper

    I disagree.    I think Obama is one of the most liberal Presidents we had.   Now his hands have been tied down significantly especially since the disaster of the 2010 elections.    Even though we didn’t get the single payer health care bill, we got a comprehensive healthcare reform.    Getting rid of Don’t ask Don’t tell was a major accomplishment.   Revitalizing the auto industry is a big plus.    Ending the Iraq war is another major plus.    But lets hit the pause button and see what he is able to accomplish in his second term.   Roosevelt had 3+ terms and Nixon follow a very liberal era when it came to domestic social programs.

  • Anonymous

    What can you say about a Democratic president who flip flopped on mandated health insurance and forces people to partake in a profit driven health care system, which is in essence the most expensive and ineffective among the developed countries of the world, without even the thought of offering Medicare to all as a option to reduce costs?

  • Kengriffin7

    Why does there have to be liberal, moderate and conservative agenda or party? What happened to governing for the common good, or did it ever exist?

    The republicans are greed driven, evil clowns that do far more harm to the country than they have ever done good. The democrats aren’t much better. No one ever ask these questions on any issue and those questions are – What is the best thing to do? How is this issue best handled or resolved for the good of everyone? All you get are political party agenda based decisions and actions that just make things worse.

    We need to get rid of all the political players, the pacs, lobbyist, etc  – find some honest, intelligent non political types and start over! 

    We don’t need parties…we don’t need to be continually left to choose between two bad choices for president or any office. We need leaders that lead for the good of the country, but first we have to find people that have the intelligence and integrity to know what the good of the country truly is.

  • Deweydoit

    While todays political climate is dysfunctional, making President Obama’s job most difficult, one can look back to FDR, a President who could transfer vision into pragmatic action.  I would rate Richard Nixon more liberal than Obama. President Obama made a terrible mistake in populating his economic advisors with the men who insisted on repeal of Glass-Steagall.  Had he sought the advice and counsel of Ms Borne, the sole Washington bureaucrat to warn then President Clinton, he would have performed somewhat better.  History will be even less kind to President Clinton.

  • Neal Camp

    Plese!!!!!!! No more fuzzy white font on a black background. You are supposed to be communicators, This and your other postings are impossible to read,

  • Fsturgell

     He thought about it.  He is living in the reality that we are a fascist country and it will take decades to repair that damage.

  • Joseph Upton

    This guy is totally delusional.  Senator Obama was rated by both liberal and conservative rating agencies as “the most liberal senator”.  No. 2 was Bernie Sanders (the socialist).  As president, there is almost no area where Obama is advocating ending government programs, self responsiblity, or cutting back government regulations.

  • Frank Luke

    Mr Alterman’s assessment of President Obama’s liberalism was startling but I believe fair, given his apparent caving to Wall St. and capitalist interests. Looking at it closer, I believe that 35-65% (is that Alterman’s assessment?) is maybe a wise position for the President to have given today’s  partisan climate that doesn’t stir up more furious dislike of him. It may disappoint or make him seem less forceful as a liberal but I think to be more centrist is wise. I think he sounds pretty forceful in the way he’s talking these days, IMO.

    I think the bottom line of “The Cause” would be to say that there can be no civil equality without economic equitability, and the Democrats have to make that one of their prime messages in the election. The GOP has given them that plus the immigration issue of illegals and right to life, all negatives that will cost them votes, IMO.

  • SF Reader

    I agree with Nevrln619 — It is only fair to make this assessment of liberalism within the context of our times, e.g. Citizen’s United, big banks holding a country hostage, corporate interest prevailing over the common good.  For him to even pass a Healthcare reform bill in our current state is a huge accomplishment.  The Supreme Court is already in the process of dismantling it.  He compromised severely on the Healthcare bill, and yet it is still being deemed unconstitutional.  He was the only one to stand up and say that Bush’s war in Iraq was a “dumb war”.  At his core Obama is a true liberal, but he has had to become a politician to get anything done.

  • Jeff Joseph

    Obama would not make pimple on Ike’s behind. 

  • Geo Run


  • Pat Elgee

    Republicans think that by their doing nothing, they can make Obama look bad. They all need to be fired for taking salary, golden benefits, and then refusing to do the job. They should all be replaced by democrats who are willing to work. Look at Maine’s Olympia Snow, a respectable republican who just got sick of the fanatics in her own party and quit the whole game.
    Then democrats need to stop all the corruption, bribery, lobbyist, and get things done.
    Obama does not want give away programs for anyone, he wants to give people a chance to do for themselves. A simple break to make a decent life for themselves is all anyone wants.
    And the only tax break that Romney specified was one on investment income–Oh! that is where he gets his money these days! Imagine that!

  • I vote

    We have only ONE PARTY and that is corporations. Instead of the AUDACITY OF HOPE, I want HOPE FOR AUDACITY for the poor. It’s about poverty. Everything is about poverty and who takes the wealth.