ONE OF THE MOST ANNOYING WORDS IN POLITICS…. This Washington Post headline features one of the most annoying words in politics: “Early on, Obama was more polarizing than we knew.”
Would it be too much to propose an indefinite moratorium on the “p” word? When everything and everyone in politics is “polarizing,” the word has lost its value and relevance.
Consider the pitch of the piece:
One of the puzzling questions about Barack Obama’s presidency is how the post-partisan candidate of 2008 became the polarizing chief executive of 2010. The answer may be surprising. He was far more polarizing from the start than many recognized. His choices in office and his opponents’ responses have only hardened that divide.
During the campaign, Candidate Obama talked about the need to put the partisan divisions of the past behind. His victory fostered discussion about whether the country had turned a corner after years of bitter partisanship. In the glow of his inauguration, some people heralded a new era in American politics.
Such notions appear badly off the mark at this point in his presidency.
With due respect to Dan Balz, this line of analysis seems badly off the mark.
Apparently, President Obama is “polarizing” because he has a significant number of critics who disapprove of him, often vehemently, if not hysterically. But that’s a poor standard for polarization — all modern presidents would necessarily get the same label, as would most of Congress and nearly every issue of debate.
I suppose the point is that Obama wasn’t supposed to be polarizing, and Balz’s piece seems to suggest that it’s the president’s fault he ended up this way. That strikes me as deeply misguided — Obama took office in a time of unprecedented challenges, and was forced to make some difficult choices. With each decision, there were opponents who disapproved, but that’s why they’re called “difficult choices.”
The article suggests Obama, before getting elected, was more committed to putting partisan divisions behind us. As far as I can tell, though, Obama was equally committed to this after getting elected, but ran into a Republican Party more intent on destroying Obama than working with him. Balz blames, at least in part, the president’s “choices in office.” But haven’t those choices been both moderate and consistent with the platform he ran on in 2008? The result was a president willing to compromise on just about every possible issue, and a GOP that refused to even consider a constructive role in policymaking.
We could have “put the partisan divisions of the past behind,” and could have “turned a corner after years of bitter partisanship,” but by any reasonable measure, Republicans slapped away the president’s outstretched hand, preferring a scorched-earth campaign.
Indeed, the GOP began 2009 with a spirited debate about rooting for the president to fail. It’s gone downhill since, and as the public’s economic anxieties have intensified, more Americans are susceptible to right-wing appeals to fear, cynicism, and hatred.
By this measure, Obama deserves to be criticized as “polarizing” if Republicans can convince a significant number of people not to like him. And if that’s the case, it’s time to retire the “p” word.