Sunday, April 20, 2014

What makes President Obama so divisive?

Bernard Goldberg sums up a lot of conservative thinking these days by suggesting that President Obama is stoking resentments. He points to the President's speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention where he captured our attention by saying, “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America. There is a United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America, a Latino America, an Asian America, There is a United States of America.” But then Goldberg asserts:
I suspect he meant that we could all achieve this wonderful, post-partisan, can’t-we-all-just-get-along America if – but only if – Republicans saw things the way he does; only if conservatives jumped on his liberal bandwagon and helped him “fundamentally transform the United States of America” — the way he thought it should be transformed.
Lets examine the record for a moment, shall we? Here's what President Obama's "liberal bandwagon" looks like:
  • Health care reform that was originally designed by the Heritage Foundation and implemented in Massachusetts by a Republican governor who was the party's last presidential nominee,
  • A 60% reduction of the budget deficit via spending cuts and increased taxes on the wealthy,
  • An attempt to reach a Grand Bargain with Republicans on the federal budget that would have traded reforms of entitlements for increased revenue (closing tax loopholes for the wealthy),
  • Proposed spending on infrastructure,
  • A proposal to institute background checks on all gun purchases and reinstating a ban on assault weapons,
  • Resisting attempts at voter suppression,
  • Supporting an extension of unemployment insurance,
  • Supporting the idea that women should be paid the same as men for the same job,
  • Proposing that the minimum wage should be raised to keep up with inflation,
  • Supporting comprehensive immigration reform that would include enhanced border security and a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented workers.
Most of those items have typically had Republican support in the past. And the list should surprise no one who has understood what Democrats stand for. I'd hardly call it divisive. Its the kind of thing the two parties have been agreeing/disagreeing about for decades. IOW, its American politics.

This is what makes many of us scratch our heads and wonder why - at this point in history - the Republicans resorted to a strategy of total obstruction. Even when President Obama was willing to take on the wrath of many in his own party to consider the idea of implementing chained-CPI, the Republicans walked away from a Grand Bargain on the federal budget.  When President Clinton was willing to negotiate about welfare reform, Republicans took him up on it and then crowed for years about their victory. Not so this time.

In the end, I'd suggest that what drives the Republican's obstruction right now is that its a power play. Its not so much about the policy as it is an attempt to win a battle against their opponent. As Sen. McConnell said during Obama's first term - their number one goal was to ensure he was a one-term president.

Under other circumstances that kind of naked power play wouldn't sit too well with voters - especially those who would benefit from the policies they are obstructing. But there is one thing that is different about this President that hasn't been in the cards before...the thing they could exploit to create fear and suspicion about the man rather than his actual policies. That's where the legacy of racism in this country comes in. Its about divide and conquer - always has been.

At this point, my problem with the Republican Party isn't so much about their policies (at least as they've been articulated in the past). We're finding out that the Heritage Foundation's proposal for health care reform isn't so bad after all and a reduced federal deficit can give us the opportunity to better define our priorities for spending. There are lots of other examples where President Obama has shown his willingness to be open to traditional Republican ideas.

But it is this exploitation of fear and suspicion that is fueling our divisiveness. It is the root of the problem we face right now. President Obama is doing his part to tackle that one. The rest is on us. I'd suggest that we listen to him and take his advice.
I firmly believe that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, or oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate...

Our goal should be to stick to our guns on those core values that make this country great, show a spirit of flexibility and sustained attention that can achieve those goals, and try to create the sort of serious, adult, consensus around our problems that can admit Democrats, Republicans and Independents of good will.


  1. That's where the legacy of racism in this country comes in. Its about divide and conquer - always has been.....
    But it is this exploitation of fear and suspicion that is fueling our divisiveness.


    Divide and conquer....the question????...Who benefits from the divide and conquer....the answer will lead us to the Puppet Master...

    I would say that the President's campaign...using a combo of small and big donor donations...along with a stellar ground game...and a message of HOPE and Transformation ...brought together what is know as the "Obama Coalition"...a Coalition that came thru not once but twice to put the President in the WH...

    I think this is what made the powers that be even more desperate to stroke the fires of racism...bigotry and Fear...

    this "divisiveness" is an updated version of the Southern Strategy...the main task is to keep white folks voting against their own interests...whether they are on the right or the left!

  2. May I say with due respect, that what President Obama has done is take a GOP talking point such as the Heritage Foundation mandates, and transform it entirely. Many do NOT realize that the resemblance between the MA health plan and ACA is about as close as, well, Romney and Obama. In other words - not. President Obama transformed the MA plan from something quite pernicious - so bad that its one time supporter, Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, became its largest critic. It benefitted insurance companies, gave almost NOTHING in supports, imposed a $15K per person per year deductible - and was almost useless to working class people except in dire emergencies and life threatening concerns. ACA changed all that, linked costs to one's income, not the flat rate with unfettered market costs and deductibles that did not have to be used for preventive care and would not break the bank. THAT is the difference. The GOP can't say that - can't say this president bested them, is more humane, is NOT corporate centered. So they rev up the 'free market' issues - and prove he bested them. You are right that the Southern Strategy works - for some. Voting against your own interests becomes possible only when "That One" can be used to make them afraid. Now if we can pull the Coalition out, add people to it, we can finally get a Congress that itself sends a message that we have to live up in fact to the promise of the American Dream. No more shadow theater that lets the rich and powerful grind us into the dirt. But to do that it does mean everyone with liberal and progressive sentiments must vote. NO ONE is 'too good' not to support their local Dem. Then we can reform from within. But being out of power is being powerless. And all the whining in the world won't change a thing.


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