Back to previous page


Obama as most polarizing president: A rebuttal

By ,

Our post on Gallup’s finding that the first three years of President Obama’s time of office were the most politically polarizing — in terms of the gap between how Democrats and Republican viewed him — of any first three years of a president’s tenure has drawn lots (and lots) of comments.

Fix friend Jim Manley, a longtime aide to Democratic Sens. Ted Kennedy (Mass.) and Harry Reid (Nev.), was particularly exercised about the post. We offered him the chance to respond — and he did. Manley’s comments are unedited. (We added a few hyperlinks to allow Fix readers to see some of the articles to which he is pointing.)

Writes Jim:

I have been a long time fan of The Fix and his expanding empire of reporters, so imagine my surprise this am when I checked my blackberry and this is what I saw, “Obama: The most polarizing president. Ever.” Now, as someone who spent the first two years of the Obama administration working as a senior Senate democratic leadership aide for Senator Reid, I needless to say have slightly different perspective on things.

For me, this quote from Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) that appeared in National Journal magazine on Oct. 23, 2010 neatly sums up what I saw every day in the Senate and in every decision Republicans made: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Or this headline, which came out of speech that Senator McConnell gave at the Heritage Foundation two days after the 2010 election: “GOP leader’s top goal: Make Obama one –term president.”

So, for The Fix to write in kind of a throwaway line “that Democrats will point out that Republicans in Congress have played a significant role in the polarization” falls far short of the mark and made me kind of mad.

I guess the larger point that I am trying to make is that President Obama should not be blamed for the sharply polarized tone of the current political process because Republicans have made such an aggressive shift to the right. Or, put slightly differently, the President CAN be blamed for his unwillingness to go further to right than the American people are comfortable with — and for that he has been demonized and vilified by the right.

As John Harris and John Allen mentioned in Politico today, quoting Professor Keith Poole: “The Republican Party has been steadily moving to the right since the 1970s. The Republicans have moved about three times the speed to the right as the Democrats have moved to the left.”

And this from Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker: “The Republican Party has drifted much farther to the right than the Democratic Party has drifted to the left. Jacob Hacker, a professor at Yale, whose 2006 book, ‘Off Center,’ documented this trend, told me, citing Poole and Rosenthal’s data on congressional voting records, that, since 1975, ‘Senate Republicans moved roughly twice as far to the right as Senate Democrats moved to the left’ and ‘House Republicans moved roughly six times as far to the right as House Democrats moved to the left.’” In other words, the story of the past few decades is asymmetric polarization.

Two well-known Washington political analysts, Thomas Mann, of the bipartisan Brookings Institution, and Norman Ornstein, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, agree.

In a forthcoming book about Washington dysfunction, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” they write: “One of our two major parties, the Republicans, has become an insurgent outlier—ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime, scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

© The Washington Post Company