A Love-Hate Relationship?

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 10, 2009; 8:25 AM

It's not enough that he's trying to impose socialism, run General Motors, refused to call America a Christian nation and supposedly bowed to the king of Saudi Arabia, as recent right-wing chatter would have it.

Now conservatives are tagging President Obama with another sin. He is, they say, a tremendously polarizing figure.

This is based on a poll, which we'll get to in a second, but first let's apply the common-sense test.

Does it seem to you that Barack Obama, who constantly talks about moving beyond the petty partisan battles of the past, inspires vitriol among most of his critics? Nope, me either.

Think about the way many conservatives detested Bill Clinton. Think about the way many liberals despised George W. Bush. Is Obama even close to being in that zone? Don't most of the folks who disagree with his policies view him as a well-meaning guy?

If he crashes the economy, ruins GM and Iraq winds up in flames, maybe the animosity level will rise. But now, after three months?

This is, after all, a president who invites Republicans over for such events as a Super Bowl party. Who named Republicans to run the Pentagon and Transportation Department, and tried to hand the Commerce Department to Judd Gregg. Who ticked off his liberal base by having Rick Warren speak at his inauguration. Does that fit the definition of polarizing?

Nonetheless, the chorus on the right is growing louder, now led by Karl Rove in the WSJ:

"The Pew Research Center reported last week that President Barack Obama 'has the most polarized early job approval of any president' since surveys began tracking this 40 years ago. The gap between Mr. Obama's approval rating among Democrats (88%) and Republicans (27%) is 61 points. This 'approval gap' is 10 points bigger than George W. Bush's at this point in his presidency, despite Mr. Bush winning a bitterly contested election . . .

"His campaign promised post-partisanship, but since taking office Mr. Obama has frozen Republicans out of the deliberative process, and his response to their suggestions has been a brusque dismissal that 'I won.' . . .

"Mr. Obama has hastened the decline of Republican support with petty attacks on his critics and predecessor. For a person who promised hope and civility in politics, Mr. Obama has shown a borderline obsessiveness in blaming Mr. Bush. Starting with his inaugural address and continuing through this week's overseas trip, the new president's jabs at Mr. Bush have been unceasing, unfair and unhelpful. They have also diminished Mr. Obama by showing him to be another conventional politician. Rather than ending 'the blame game,' he is personifying it . . .

"The most recent Fox News poll (taken March 31 to April 1) found that Mr. Obama's job approval among independents has fallen to 52%, down nine points from the start of March and down 12 points from late January . . . No president in the past 40 years has done more to polarize America so much, so quickly."

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