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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

President Obama Fails Post Partisanship

There is a Pew Research poll that many political analysts and especially those that occupy the conservative sphere have recently been pointing to. The poll says that President Obama is the most polarizing president ever at this period in his term, on apples to apples comparison. (meaning compared to other president at the exact same time in their terms) The poll measures polarization by the gap between Republican and Democrat approval. Obama's gap is a whopping 61%. 88% or Democrats approve while only 27% of Republicans approve.

There are several things to mention here. First, this should surprise no one. President Obama has embarked on the boldest liberal agenda possibly in history and second only to FDR, if second at all. Everything that President Obama has so far proposed domestically is a liberal's dream and a conservative's nightmare. From his budget, to universal health care, to cap and trade, to centralized educational planning, to a new regulatory framework, this is all boiler plate liberal causes. Of course, he is extremely polarizing.

On its own, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Here is how Jay Cost describes polarization.

Additionally, I don't think polarization is necessarily a bad thing. Polarization - as I see it - is where you have small differences within each party, but big differences between the parties. One beneficial consequence of such a situation is that the public, which is not really paying careful attention, stands a better chance of perceiving real differences between the two sides. Ultimately, that can make electoral results more meaningful - as a vote for a party can be better identified with a vote for a governing philosophy.

So, with no context, polarization is not that terribly awful. Where this polarization will likely become an albatross around Obama is that his main theme in running for president was an end to exactly this kind of polarization. We were supposed to get past partisanship, polarization, and politics as usual. Instead, we have been treated to a more intense version of politics as usual.

Candidate Obama never actually told anyone how he was going to accomplish any of this. Then, he became president. Immediately, he let Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid write a massive stimulus bill. Republicans weren't consulted. It was hammered out near midnight and voted on by noon the next day. Even though only three Republicans supported the bill from either chamber, President Obama didn't demand that anyone go back to work to craft something both sides could agree on. Then, he moved immediately to create a budget that would massively increase the size of government. This is NOT post partisanship.

Furthermore, this is an opening that Republicans must drive a Mack truck through come both November of 2010 and eventually November of 2012. President Obama's policies are significantly less popular than President Obama. As such, if he is defined by his policies, then he will have a tough time. If he is defined by his policies, it will take very little skill to define him as a typical tax and spend liberal. By attacking the central theme of his campaign, the Republicans attack a central theme of his attraction. People were attracted to post partisanship and an end to politics as usual. Of course, we've had none of that, and Republicans must make the voters aware of it at the right time.


Anonymous said...

I'm interested in your opinion, Mike, on what caused the polarizing gap to grow over the years.

I for one see it like this. Both parties are more or less run by Wall Street types, but they both appeal to different ideologies. Back in the day, the business factions in each party tended to think that bipartisanship = stability, and stability is good for business.

Today, each party's ideological wing exercises more authority than it did in the past. You see it with conservatives frustrated with McCain staying home in '08 or with the Democrats base pressuring Obama to stop listening to guys like Larry Summers for economic advice.

Whether or not an economic recovery can push both parties back toward the center remains to be seen. Then again, the rise in partisanship could also be due to the proliferation in internet based alternative media where people can get their news from like minded sources.

Anonymous said...

Dreaming of a Republican victory again Mike?

The gap between the approval ratings of Barack Obama by Republicans and those by Democrats is due to (1) the extremely high approval rating by Democrats and (2) the state of denial of right-wing diehards who say "no" to anything and anybody linked to Democrats.

The GOP released an opposition budget that called for a government spending freeze and a flat tax at 25 percent.

In other words, a massive (14 percent) tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, and no help for anyone else.

You forgot to mention the decline in the number of people that identify as Republicans. The more people who wake up and see conservatism for the greed based pack of lies that it is the larger that gap will become. There is no need to change anything to please the group of malcontents that conservatives have sent to congress.

You probably forgot that the President could not have been more gracious to those fools when he came into office. They spit in his face and then went back to their districts and started taking credit for what was accomplished. Tax cuts for the rich is the only policy that they will accept and the people of this country have moved on.

Its time to stop crying about the last election. You may not know but our economy is in a crisis that was brought on by the failed conservative ideology. Now is the time to try and help the country rather than the conservatives ambition for power. America First try it.

Obama has united the middle and the left in order to take action. The right has decided that no action is needed at this time (at least the part of the right loyal to the king ditto head and the Glen Beck's of the world).

The far right seems terrified that what they actually did for the previous 8 years will be studied, they also seem terrified of doing anything to fix what they did for the previous 8 years. They preach continuation of their policies, they continue their childish rhetoric, and they try and stop everybody else from getting anything done.

The GOP has entered the wilderness of being a regional, ethnic party which is headed by their fringe. Those that are loyal to the GOP fringe - which is only concerned with political power for the GOP - are not going to support anything that doesn't lead to political power for the GOP. The fact that these people are not happy with Obama is completely unsurprising. Obama is trying to undo an epic mess, not enhance the GOP's political standing.

The GOP is, of course, only concerned about their political standing - not trying to find solutions to the epic problems they, in large part, created. They, in fact, seem very invested in pretending that many of the problems we face as a nation are not problems at all and that we should just bow our heads (or stick them in the sand) and move along.

How about this part of the poll that you didnt highlight?

"Democrats continue to express overwhelmingly positive views of Obama (88% approve), while more than twice as many independents approve (57%) as disapprove (27%) of his job performance."

Democrats and Independents make up 73+% of registered voters.

It wont matter that the GOP clain he is not post-partisan because the GOP's support has fallen off a cliff.

You seem to think the electorate are stupid.

mike volpe said...

I think there are so many reasons that a book could be written about it. I think everything you say is true, but I also think that there are a lot of social trends. I think the internet has a lot to do with it. The internet allows access to so much more media. As such, people are able to find more media that fits their world view. I also read that folks are even socializing more with folks of their own political ideology.

Just remember that Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton over partisanship so polarization is not new.