Polarizer-in-Chief

By STEPHEN MOORE

Back in 2008 Barack Obama promised to crack through the partisan gridlock in Washington, to unify a divided electorate and reach across the aisle to get things done. In his election-night victory speech, he said that we must “resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.”

Four years later, that political well is as poisoned as ever. A Gallup poll released last week found that “an average of 90% of Democrats, and 8% of Republicans, approve of the job Barack Obama is doing as president. That 82-percentage-point gap in approval ratings by party is on pace to be the largest Gallup has measured for a recent incumbent president in the final month before Americans vote on his re-election.” Even George W. Bush, whom Mr. Obama attacked for his severe partisanship, only had a gap on the eve of his re-election effort of 80 percentage points (92% Republican approval and 12% Democratic approval).

Gallup then examined the approval rating of a candidate by voters of the opposite party during the fourth year in office and found that Mr. Obama has the lowest approval rating (10%) of voters from the party out of power of any incumbent president since Eisenhower. At this point in his presidency, Mr. Bush’s approval rating with Democrats was five points higher than what Mr. Obama has now with Republicans. The average incumbent president since the 1950s had the approval of more than one-third of voters from the opposite party. Even Richard Nixon had a 41% approval rating from Democrats in 1972.

What went wrong for Mr. Obama? The Democrats’ campaign talking point here is that Republicans plotted from the start to undermine Mr. Obama’s presidency. But this was a president who came into office with a 68% approval rating—the highest since John F. Kennedy. Republican voters were not rooting against him, but for his success. The tone for a super-charged partisan presidency was established right out of the gate when Mr. Obama rammed through Congress both his $830 billion fiscal stimulus bill and ObamaCare. Both passed without a single Republican vote. Mr. Obama’s justification for these polarizing laws when meeting with Republicans was: “I won.” And after his voter repudiation in the 2010 midterm elections, Mr. Obama moved even further to the left. After Bill Clinton suffered midterm congressional losses two years into his presidency, he moved to the political center. Mr. Clinton had a 24% approval rating among Republicans on the eve of his re-election.

Mr. Obama hasn’t healed “the divides that have held back our progress,” as he pledged four years ago. His presidency has been polarizing because his redistributionist ideas are polarizing, and it is hard to see how things would be any different over the next four years.

this article appeared in the WSJ on the Sunday  edition

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