Who has a record?

As between McCain and Obama, it’s not McCain.

Marc Ambinder points to Juan Williams’s attack on Obama, which compares to McCain’s purported history of “working across party lines” with Obama’s “rhetoric and wishful thinking.” Williams says of Obama: “He doesn’t have a record.”

Ambinder says of the attack, which he predicts the Republicans will be using in the fall, “The substance is not dismissible out of hand.”

Dismissible? No. But it’s disprovable, and without excessive effort. Obama has more genuine bipartisan achievement to his credit in his short career than McCain does in his long one.

Obama has several substantial bi-partisan accomplishments. In Springfield, he sponsored successful bills for children’s health care, an earned income tax credit, ethics and campaign finance reform, and videotaped police interrogations (an anti-torture measure). In Washington, it was ethics reform again and work with Richard Lugar on loose nukes. That is not a thin record. (Charles Peters has the details on Springfield, and Hilzoy has two long posts on Obama in the U.S. Senate and on Obama’s style of bipartisanship.)

Against that , Williams cites two items only from McCain’s 25-year career: campaign finance reform and comprehensive immigration reform. McCain did indeed co-sponsor McCain-Feingold, which his campaign is currently violating by exceeding the primary election spending cap after having agreed to take matching funds and gained both financial and ballot-placement benefit from that agreement. McCain also worked on immigration reform, which crashed and burned in the Senate because he couldn’t get his own Republican colleagues to stand by him, and which he has now abandoned in favor of an enforcement-only approach that is not bipartisan at all.

What else does McCain have?

* A long run as Chair of Senate Commerce, where he helped preside over the bipartisan acquiescence in the massive consolidation of media control in the hands of outfits such as Clear Channel and News Corporation.

* Opposition to torture, until he switched sides and supported Bush in using torture as long as the CIA rather than the military had to do the dirty work.

All that leaves as a real accomplishment is McCain’s work with John Kerry to bring reconciliation with Vietnam and discredit the Rambo-powered POW/MIA racket. Both of them deserve great credit for that. But that’s not really much of a record for more than two decades on the Hill. And what has he done for us lately?

So while I agree with Ambinder that the Republicans will very likely run on the lie that McCain has a record and Obama has a speech, I’m not very worried about that particular lie, because the record refutes it. Obama confounds the distinction famously made for Carl Hayden in his youth by Frederick Talbott in his old age: Obama combines the capacity of a “work horse” with the style of a “show horse.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com