"Remind me again, what is the evidence—in terms of policies, not affect or attitude or negotiating strategy—that Obama is not an unreconstructed lefty (on the American spectrum—a paleoliberal or a bit further left)? For example, would he roll back welfare reform if he could?"Well, his voting record in the Senate is not extremely far left — in 2007 he was the most liberal Senator, but the two previous years he was only a little more liberal than Hillary.
His record in the Illinois legislature was fairly technocratic, with him picking and choosing issues on which he could make a consensus with technocratic Republicans.
But, what do we know about what he'll do when he finally gets the top job? For example, who will he nominate to the Supreme Court?
As of the writing of his 1995 book, Obama appears to have been further to the left than about 95% of the public. For example, his concerns in the late 1980s (and repeated with a straight face in his autobiography) about the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.'s church was whether it was not radical enough. Similarly, in Obama's book, there's virtually no criticism of welfare. Indeed, Obama's mission in life when he was a racial activist and then when he became a discrimination lawyer was to get more money out of whites for blacks.
Many people assume that because Obama likes to show that he understands their arguments by paraphrasing them back to them, often better than they made them themselves, that he therefore must agree with them. But it's just conservative egomania to assume that the problem with people who disagree with you is that they don't understand your arguments, and therefore anybody who is smart enough to understand you, like Obama is, must agree with you and have your best interests at heart.
Sorry, it doesn't work that way.
For example, when Charles De Gaulle visited embattled French Algeria in 1958, the first thing he told a vast crowd of worried pied noirs was, "I have understood you." The French-speakers cried in relief because, finally, France had a leader who understood their plight. De Gaulle then proceeded to give their country to their mortal enemies. He understood the French Algerians just fine, as well as they understood themselves. He just didn't care about them as much as they cared about themselves.
Sen. Obama has written a 442 page autobiography in which he took great pains to indicate that A. He cares about his own feelings a vast amount. B. He cares about one segment of the population far more than he cares about the rest.
I could well believe that Obama moderated his feelings at some point since 1995 (perhaps when black voters rejected him for Bobby Rush in 2000). But I would feel a lot more confident about my guess if the media would stop pretending that Dreams from My Father doesn't exist and somebody would sit down with him on camera and say: "According to your autobiography, you were way, way out in left field as recently as 1995. (And if you try to deny that, I'll quote your memoirs page by page.) Have you changed since then? How so? When? Why? How can you prove it?"