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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Most Polarizing Column?

Michael Gerson has a particularly offensive column in the Washington Post today. Titled “The Most Polarizing President,” it begins:

Who has been the most polarizing new president of recent times? Richard Nixon? Ronald Reagan? George W. Bush?
No, that honor belongs to Barack Obama. According to the Pew Research Center, the gap between Republican and Democratic approval ratings for Bush a few months into his first term was about 51 percentage points. For Obama, this partisan gap stands at 61 points. Obama has been a unifier, of sorts. He has united Democrats and united Republicans — against each other.

Now Gerson does note that this partisan gap is in significant measure a result of increasing partisanship in general:

Ron Brownstein, the author of “The Second Civil War,” cites a variety of structural reasons for intensified division. There has been a “sorting out” of the political parties, making each more ideologically uniform. Long, nasty presidential campaigns stoke our differences. Media outlets have become more partisan. Ideological interest groups have proliferated.

But by a remarkable – and I’m sure totally inadvertent – oversight, Gerson happens to omit another key fact — that Republican identification has also declined dramatically lately, with many former Republicans now calling themselves independents. The self-identified Republicans who are now so dreadfully polarized by Obama today are a much smaller and more ideologically homogenous group than the Americans who called themselves Republicans in previous years.
Despite this rather important omission, Gerson doesn’t hold back on unleashing a rather maudlin “more in sorrow than in anger” conclusion

…it is a sad, unnecessary shame that Barack Obama, the candidate of unity, has so quickly become another source of division.

Well, before we get carried away, let’s all put away our handkerchiefs for a moment and look at the facts.
1. Obama is actually extremely popular with the American people – much more so than Bush I or Bush II at this point in their presidencies.
Here is a wrap-up by Bloomberg News:

April 7 (Bloomberg) — President Barack Obama is winning higher marks from Americans than the last three presidents early in their terms as he takes on a global recession, two wars and domestic fights over government spending, health care and taxes.
Obama’s approval rating climbed to a high of 66 percent in an April 1-5 New York Times/CBS News poll released today. The poll follows recent surveys by the Gallup Poll, Quinnipiac University and the Pew Research Center showing that about six out of 10 Americans approve of the job the president is doing.
A Gallup Poll taken in March gave Obama, a Democrat, a 64 percent approval rating. That compares with 56 percent for Republican George H.W. Bush, 52 percent for Democrat Bill Clinton and 53 percent for Republican George W. Bush at similar points in their presidencies.

2. Obama is winning very strong majority approval from independents – 57-60% in fact.
Here’s Charlie Cook:

President Obama’s job approval rating among Democrats in last month’s Pew polling was 88 percent, with just 27 percent of Republicans approving… He received a 57 percent approval rating among independents… Obama got similar numbers in Gallup polling last week, with a 90 percent approval rating among Democrats, 27 percent among Republicans and 60 percent among independents.

So, let’s add it all up.
• Over 60% of the American people currently approve of Obama – 10% more than approved of either Bush I or Bush II at this point.
• Republican Party identification has shrunk substantially and the Party’s remaining supporters have become more intensely partisan. Nonetheless, even so, over one-quarter – 27% of these hard-core Republicans still approve of Obama.
• And 57-60% – a solid, commanding majority — of independents approve of him.
So, Let’s all send Gerson a message: “Hey, Mike, cut out the histrionics. Blow your nose, put away the silly polka-dot hanky and stop the sanctimonious blubbering about Obama causing partisan division. The Oscars are over.
America isn’t divided – it’s solidly behind Obama.
It’s not his fault some people just can’t handle the truth.

One comment on “The Most Polarizing Column?

  1. Bernie Latham on

    Gerson provides an excellent study of the work-a-day propagandist. Whatever the hopeful contemporary talking point might be, you can find it, as is the case above, in his first two or three paragraphs (he’d refer to it as his ‘thesis’). We’ll note that today, Karl Rove pumps the same talking point out in the WSJ.
    My favorite Gerson column was the one he wrote on March 27 where he was faced with the awkward problem of forwarding the notion that Obama is less exciting, less inspiring, less worthy and a sort of deceitful character for using a teleprompter. As the apogee of Gerson’s professional life was writing speeches designed to be read off a teleprompter (by a fellow who really did need the help), this presented something of a dilemma for Gerson.
    His solution? Toss in the talking points in those first paragraphs and then head into a full-throated defense of the noble art of speechwriting.
    It didn’t work for me.


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