There are a couple of interesting posts on the net over the last few weeks. First, is the RCP post by Jay Cost. Obama ran as a post partisan candidate–it defined his campaign and reason for running. After 8 years of Bush, he seemed like a corrective against the political ways of Bush and the Republicans. Cost notes that now Obama is very unpopular in part because he has governed, and spoken, as if Bush never left the White House.
Today, Gallup reports:
(Obama’s) first-year ratings were the most polarized for a president in Gallup history, with an average 65-point gap between Republicans and Democrats. Obama’s approval ratings have become slightly more polarized thus far in his second year in office, with an average 69-point gap between Democrats (83%) and Republicans (14%) since late January.
This is a big deal. The first quote is the principal reason Barack Obama ran for President.At a minimum, it was his first public argument for why he thought the country should elect him, as opposed to the dozen or so other candidates who would enter the race. It remained a critically important idea throughout his candidacy. Remember, the Obama campaign was an “audacious” act of line-jumping within the Democratic Party. His justification was that the country couldn’t afford to keep playing the same old political games. The hook of his candidacy was: America, do you really want to do Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton?
A smarter way to put it is that Obama was never in a position to deliver on his promises, as Cost notes. Furthermore, the ideological division in the country are great. Finally, division is not such a bad things. There is really no base with which Obama can govern the way he speaks, and Cost notes this well:
Second, insofar as leadership could bridge the many divides in this country, this President has never been in a good position to exercise it. He owes too much to others. You don’t win a nomination battle like the Clinton-Obama smackdown without making a bunch of promises. Remember that neither Clinton nor Obama secured enough delegates through the primaries and caucuses; Obama needed the superdelegates, chief among them being Speaker Nancy Pelosi (easily the most powerful Democrat in the country prior to the President’s inauguration). There is a long line of constituent groups in the Democratic Party who certainly needed assurances about what an Obama presidency would look like. So long as reelection remains to be secured, these groups at least have to be monitored if not placated. And so, in a time of great divisiveness, the people with the closest connection to the 44th President are consistently on one side of the aisle. The left side. This feature of the Obama presidency came through most clearly on health care.
Obama talked a good game about bipartisan compromise, but at no point did I get the impression that he was willing to ditch a guy like George Miller (a far left liberal in the House) to pick up a moderate Republican like Delaware’s Mike Castle. Indeed, George Miller was one of the key authors of the health care bill in the House! There’s no practical way you can get George Miller and Mike Castle to work together on a comprehensive overhaul of the American health care system. They are just too far apart ideologically. So, the question is: whose vote do you value more? Obama’s answer has been crystal clear in his deeds, if not his words.
People are divided, and politics is about division–politics is about justice. Where there are differing views of justice there will be differing views, and hence, divisions in the electorate. Obama is bound to disappoint those who desired he would be the leader to heal the nation of division. I think Cost downplays that reality a bit, but the reality is people expected it in some way, and that was the base of his electoral coalition. He has governed with a different governing coalition, and now his electoral coalition is falling apart.
Case in point, his approval ratings.
Rasmussen Reports makes clear Obama’s rise in unpopularity. He also has an approval rating of 42%. This is very low. The trend is obvious–downward.
The increase in the graph above, lends evidence that Obama is losing not only the independents, but likely his base, whom believe he has not governed to the left enough. Should this continue, this trend, Obama could have a challenger in the primary at worst, or a lackluster turnout, at best, in 2012.
The lesson of all this is simple: Obama is a typically partisan president.