Pete, you’ve captured yet another way in which Obama has made the political divisions more acute. We now seem fundamentally and sharply divided on how we feel about him. Conservatives see the triumphalism (“I won!”), the petty attacks on talk-show hosts and a news network, the language of vilification, and the ungracious, almost pathological need to blame George Bush for all his woes. (His aides even go so far as to lie about the lack of war-planning by the Bush team — that would be the war-planning they plagiarized.)
It is, as Michael Gerson notes, a tone of “smallness.” Gerson reviews how we have gotten from large and grand ideas and appeals to our better selves to something very different:
How did the tonal candidate become so tone-deaf? We have always known that there are two Obamas. One is the thoughtful, Niebuhr-quoting professor, who listens to every side and speaks inspiring words of unity. The other Obama comes from Chicago and suffers from an excess of Chicagoans around him. Many Democrats seem to like the street-brawling side of Obama and his team. Many independents and Republicans seem less enthusiastic that Mr. Hyde has moved in his furniture and clearly plans to stay.
Instead, the Obama fans see a tough-guy act all of a sudden. Shows he’s no push-over (we’re talking Fox, not the mullahs). And what conservatives see as a distasteful delight in running down America’s past conduct, the Left sees as a noble effort to rise above mere national parochialism. What conservatives see as blind disregard for the limitations of multilateralism and a disturbing tendency to ingratiate himself with foes, the Left sees as evidence of nobility and high-mindedness. And for those whose opinion is quite low of the knuckle-dragging voters who dare challenge the wisdom of ObamaCare or who disdain ( but don’t really listen to) talk radio, whatever insults are hurled by the White House seem entirely justified.
There is no bridging the divide. At least so long as the president chooses to plan himself so firmly on the Left.
And what of the great number of voters in the middle, for whom the tone was the key attraction and the high-mindedness (not the specific policy agenda) that drew them to him? I suspect that they, unlike the liberal cheerleaders willing to excuse or reinterpret nearly any behavior in service of the larger leftist agenda, will notice the change as well. They might wonder what happened to the candidate who didn’t sound like every other snarling politician to come down the pike. Now Obama and his team do, and it may make a very big difference to the segment of the electorate whose votes are always up for grabs.