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Obama’s Polarization Express


Two of my former colleagues, Karl Rove and Michael Gerson have written about the most recent poll from the Pew Research Center which shows Barack Obama to have the most polarized early job approval of any president since surveys began tracking this 40 years ago. The gap between Mr. Obama’s approval rating among Democrats (88 percent) and Republicans (27 percent) is ten points larger than George W. Bush’s at this point in his presidency. Among Democrats, 36 percent approved of Bush’s job performance in April 2001; that compares with a 27-percent job approval rating for Obama among Republicans today.
I would add one additional comment to what I said on Monday: It will be interesting to see if pundits consider polarization under Obama to be as troublesome as it was under Bush.
For example, the liberal columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr., writing in the Washington Post on January 20, 2009, wrote this:

From the very beginning of his presidency, won courtesy of a divisive Supreme Court decision that abruptly ended his contest with Al Gore in 2000, Bush misunderstood the nature of his lease on power, the temper of the country and the proper role of partisanship in our political life. His win-at-all-costs strategy in Florida became a template for much of his presidency, reflected especially in the way the Justice Department was politicized.  Bush did not respect the obligation of a leader in a free society to forge a durable consensus. He was better at announcing policies than explaining them. He dismissed legitimate opposition and plausible doubts about the courses he wished to pursue….Bush was capable of considerable charm, but he never really engaged his opponents. He rolled over them. He did not try to win expansive electoral majorities. Instead, he sought to build a compact, ideologically pure coalition that he could use on behalf of dramatic conservative departures. He claimed mandates he did not win.

Two years earlier (July 10, 2007), Dionne wrote this:

George W. Bush ran for president in 2000 promising to ease partisan divisions. He has left our politics a wreck of recrimination, anger and polarization.

Many other liberals expressed similar sentiments during the Bush years. Now that Obama has out-polarized Bush by governing in a far more partisan manner than Bush did at comparable periods of their presidencies, will Dionne and others in the commentariat express their grave concerns about polarization? Gosh I hope so; otherwise, they would be wide open to charges of a tendentious double standard.


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