Obama: The Great Divider

The President has spent more time talking about bipartisanship than actually pursuing it.

Supporters of Barack Obama hailed their candidate’s ascension to America’s highest political office as ushering in a “post-partisan presidency.” The reasoning behind this wasn’t without reason. After all, Obama had announced at his 2004 Democratic Convention keynote address, “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America—there is the United States of America,” and had promised upon his inauguration “an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.” But almost four years into his presidency, Barack Obama presides over a more polarized America than any the Pew Research Center has polled in its quarter century of surveying political division on 48 separate issues.

President Obama failed to convince a single Republican to vote for his signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act, and garnered just a handful of GOP supporters for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. As former Democratic Congressman Artur Davis told the Republicans gathered in Tampa Tuesday night, “Bill Clinton, Jack Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson reached out across the aisle and said meet me in the middle. But [Democrats] rammed through a healthcare bill that took over one-sixth of our economy, without accepting a single Republican idea, without winning a single vote in either house from a party whose constituents make up about 50 percent of the country.”

On day three of the Obama presidency, the post-partisan president had entered the post-post-partisan stage of his administration. “Elections have consequences,” he told Eric Cantor upon hearing ideas from the then-House Minority Leader, “and, Eric, I won.” Not until more than two years into his administration did Barack Obama hold a one-on-one meeting with the Republican leader of the House or Senate. He routinely submits budgets not to win passage but to enhance his bona fides with the liberal base. When the democratic process rebuked his arrogance in the fall of 2010 he arrogantly rebuked the democratic process. Going to war in Libya after consulting the United Nations but not Congress, slipping carbon limits into Environmental Protection Agency regulations that had failed to pass muster with Congress, and placing controversial end-of-life-counseling into the Federal Register after Congress had explicitly rejected it substantively sums up the my-way-or-the-highway approach. His ongoing “We Can’t Wait” initiative symbolically sums it up.

The president’s biography foreshadowed his presidency. Born in Hawaii, educated in Los Angeles, New York, and Cambridge, and representing a cross-section of white academics and black underclass from Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood as an Illinois state legislator, Barack Obama knows Blue America. His work for Ralph Nader’s Public Interest Research Group and as a community organizer in Chicago certainly didn’t bring him into contact with many conservatives. Today, he resides where his popularity is greatest (the District of Columbia awards him an 83 percent approval rating, according to Gallup) and even vacations on Martha’s Vineyard, an island containing the Bluest town (nine in ten Aquinnah residents voted for him) in the Bluest state. But what do they know of Blue States who only Blue States know?

The president’s Blue-bubble existence cuts quite a contrast with the candidates who seek to unseat him.

Michigan-born Mitt Romney won election to govern Massachusetts, where, as his wife pointed out Tuesday night, just thirteen percent of the electorate registers Republican. Democrats back then composed the state’s entire Washington delegation. Upon becoming governor in 2003, Romney faced super-majorities of Democrats in both houses of the state legislature. Yet, he managed to cut taxes and the budget deficit.

Like Massachusetts, Wisconsin hasn’t voted Republican for president since opting for Ronald Reagan in 1984. Yet Paul Ryan, representing the urban district held by Les Aspin for more than two decades, has never garnered less than 57 percent of the vote in any of his seven runs for Congress.

Past performance doesn’t guarantee future results. But at least Romney and Ryan have a track record of winning ballots from Democratic voters and persuading Democratic lawmakers. Barack Obama has a history of talking about bipartisanship. He doesn’t have much of a history of talking to actual Republicans.

Former Democratic Congressman Artur Davis quipped Tuesday at the Republican National Convention, “Democrats used to have a night when they presented a film of their presidential legends: if they do it in Charlotte, the theme song should be this year’s hit, ‘Somebody That I Used to Know.’” If Americans don’t recognize Barack Obama as the type of Democrat that they used to know, the pod-person president’s failure to get to know the alien species known as Republicans best explains why.

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