The Most Polarizing President Ever

Commentary Magazine

It’s official now. Barack Obama’s ratings are “historically polarized,” according to a new Gallup survey.

Jeffrey Jones of the Gallup organization writes, “The historically high gap between partisans’ job approval ratings of Barack Obama continued during Obama’s third year in office, with an average of 80 percent of Democrats and 12 percent of Republicans approving of the job he was doing… The 68-point gap between partisans’ approval ratings of Obama last year is nine points higher than that for any other president’s third year.” Obama, by the way, holds the record for the most polarized first and second years in office, too. Which means Obama has set a record for polarization every year he’s been in office.

So now is as good a time as any to remind people one of the core claims made by Barack Obama during his presidential campaign wasn’t simply that he would heal the planet; he would also heal the nation’s political breach. He would elevate the national debate. Reason would prevail over emotion. He would do away with what he called the “50 plus one” style of governing. Obama would “turn the page” on the “old politics” of division and anger. He would end a politics that “breeds division and conflict and cynicism.” He would help us to “rediscover our bonds to each other and … get out of this constant petty bickering that’s come to characterize our politics.” He would “cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past.”

“I will listen to you,” Obama said on a stage in Grant Park on the night of his election, “especially when we disagree.”

His election, he informed us, was a sign we had “chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.” On the day of his inauguration he came to proclaim “an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

“The time has come to set aside childish things,” he told us on the day of his inauguration. And to paraphrase the Book of Isaiah, a community organizer shall lead us.

Where Obama has led us, it turns out, is to as much polarization as we have ever seen. Our divisions are deeper than they were. Our common ground is less than we could have imagined. Conflict and discord prevail over unity of purpose. Petty bickering characterizes our politics. Obama has wrapped himself in worn-out ideas and the politics of the past. And we have not even fully engaged in the 2012 presidential campaign, which will make our present disunity look like the land of milk and honey.

Whatever the cause of our divisions — and they are many and complicated — it was Barack Obama who said he would bind up the wounds. This promise was at the centerpiece of his campaign, the heart of his appeal, the meaning behind “hope and change.” And now it lies in ashes.

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