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Our Most Polarizing President

Barack Obama is a record-setting president.

He is the most polarizing president in the history of polling.

According to the Gallup organization, during his fourth year in office, an average of 86 percent of Democrats and 10 percent of Republicans approved of the job Barack Obama did as president. That 76-percentage-point gap ties George W. Bush’s fourth year as the most polarized years in Gallup records. Now let’s dial the clock back a year, when Jeffrey Jones of the Gallup organization wrote, “The historically high gap between partisans’ job approval ratings of Barack Obama continued during Obama’s third year in office, with an average of 80 percent of Democrats and 12 percent of Republicans approving of the job he was doing… The 68-point gap between partisans’ approval ratings of Obama last year is nine points higher than that for any other president’s third year.” 

This came after Obama set a record for polarization in each of his first two years in office. So Barack Obama has set a record for polarization for three years in a row and tied the record for polarization in a fourth year.

I realize that after his re-election victory, we’re all supposed to forget what Obama said when he ran four years ago. But just for the fun of it, let’s take a stroll down memory lane.

What Obama promised us back in the day was that he would do away with what he called the “50 plus one” style of governing. He would “turn the page” on the “old politics” of division and anger. Mr. Obama would end a politics that “breeds division and conflict and cynicism.” He would help us to “rediscover our bonds to each other and … get out of this constant petty bickering that’s come to characterize our politics.” He would “cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past.”

“I will listen to you,” Obama said on election night 2008, “especially when we disagree.” His election, he helpfully informed us, was a sign that we had “chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.”

And then there was Obama’s first Inaugural Address, when he proclaimed “an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

It needs to be said that we do live in an unusually polarized age. But Mr. Obama knew that when he took office four years ago. And the promises he made were unqualified. If we elected him, Obama promised, he would heal the breach. Yet here we are, four years later, with Obama having presided over an era of petty grievances, false promises, recriminations, and worn-out dogmas that have strangled our politics. And by every sign, the next four years will be even more divisive and acrimonious. There is blame to go around; but the president is primus inter pares. 

Mr. Obama is doing great harm to important areas of our national life, including our political culture and civic bonds. He will leave America a far more bitter and riven nation. That is a real shame, and it was all so unnecessary.


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