All day long the gasbags have been pimping this op-ed by Michael Gerson in which he castigates Obama for "polarizing" the country with his partisan ways. It seems like just yesterday they were gushing like Old Faithful about his post-partisan inclusiveness. What happened?
Well, first of all Michael Gerson may be a Bush administration whore, but he is now a member in good standing of the political establishment with a column in the Village paper and everything. If he says it, it must be worth discussing right? But, as with other Washington Post columnists these days, Gerson is just wrong on the facts. Here's Greg Sargent:
But — and this is not an easy thing to bring up, because it means colleague Gerson doesn’t read this blog — none other than the director of Pew’s polling told me in an interview the other day that this is a bogus interpretation.
“It’s unfair to say that Obama has caused this divisiveness or to say that he is a polarizing president,” Michael Dimock, Pew’s associate director, told me. Dimock said this phenomenon is driven by the uncommon Dem enthusiasm, and even the Republican tendency to be more hostile to opposing presidents than Dems. Parsing this very closely, the person who oversees Pew’s polls thinks Gerson’s interpretation of his poll is wrong and “unfair.”
It's true that Democrats really,really like Obama. But Republicans really, rewally liked Bush for a long time and I don't recall anyone seeing that as a polarizing factoid. Indeed, they referred to him as enormously popular long after he had sunk into the low 40s for months on end.
The political polarization of America can best be explained by the simple fact that the conservative tribe (whichever party it reside in) is a bunch of assholes. Or, to be more charitable, they are organized first and foremost by a paranoid loathing of their opposition. In their modern incarnation, they actually prefer to be in the minority because it sets them free to do what they believe is their most important duty: obstruct and discredit government. This has nothing to do with the individuals -- they hated Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton with the same fervid passion as they hate Obama. It's just how they are.
What's more interesting to me is that the right is managing to work the refs on this and get them to adopt this premise that it's Obama's fault that Republicans are assholes. That we are dealing with this question just a couple of months after the inaugural lovefest just shows how quickly the worm can turn. And I also suspect they are aiming some of this rhetoric at Obama himself, trying to provoke him into bending ever more to the right in order that nobody see him as being too partisan --- hoisting him with his own post-partisan petard. Let's hope that's not going to have any effect. (Clinton had a bad habit of contining to seek their approval even after they went into full character assassination mode --- and it got him the second impeachment in American history.)
Obama's promises to change Washington were always far fetched and it's a great relief to see that actually pass by the wayside. Democrats lose in that game. Everyone likes the idea of it, but not at the expense of their values and needs. The whole thing was far more important to the beltway elite who wanted their little berg to be more personally congenial. But the rest of us don't actually care about that except in the most abstract sense of not enjoying the fatuous TV gasbags go at each other.
The bottom line is that people have have fundamental, meaningful, serious disagreements about policy and the role of government. And there's not actually anything wrong with that. If liberals are prepared to do political battle with the conservatives then we can see these things played out in the political system, which is as it should be. Where they get into trouble is when they listen to the Village elders who are conditioned to be hostile to (liberals) upsetting the status quo and fetishize "bipartisanship" and process over policy and outcomes.
People who have lost their jobs and are struggling with health care costs and the prospects of a struggling retirement don't actually care if Republicans and Democrats fight over how to fix it. Only in the beltway bubble is there some expectation that everyone is going to agree. The rest of us would prefer that our politicians stand up for what they believe in and try to do what they promised. Apparently we have more faith in democracy than the villagers do ... which is thoroughly unsurprising.