Obama Is Polarizing Because People Are Getting To Know His Liberalism

By Bonnie Erbe, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

I commend to your attention my colleague Ken Walsh's insightful article on President Obama losing popularity with conservatives and Republicans. Then please consider my own interpretation of recent poll data and please chime in:

Obama is facing an additional problem that has been little noticed by the media and little discussed by his own strategists, at least in public. He is turning out to be what he said he wouldn't be: a polarizing figure. Each of his immediate predecessors was popular with core members of his own party--Bill Clinton with Democrats, George W. Bush with Republicans--but alienated the other side. That's what's happening to Obama as his ratings remain strong with fellow Democrats but slide with Republicans. Independents remain up for grabs.

I don't think anything has changed about President Obama since he ran for office. I think he's always been a fervent big government devotee. What have changed are that (A) George W. Bush is gone, and (B) the country is getting to know President Obama better.

I believe former President Bush had so thoroughly disgusted the American voting public, Americans would have voted for anyone, anything, or any alternative to President Bush. The less like Bush, the better. Former Senator Clinton lost the nomination to Mr. Obama because she had voted for Bush's war--remember? She was more centrist than Obama, and that and another handful of strategic campaign errors cost her the nomination. Former Senator Obama was in the right place at the right time, and he skillfully muffled some of his more liberal tendencies during the campaign--but only very slightly.

In other words, I don't believe the message of November 2008 is that America has become a more liberal nation that uniformly welcomed a fervently liberal Democrat into the White House. I even blogged at the time about how in some senses President Obama's election felt like a political return to 1960s and '70s liberalism. It felt that way because his election was a true life miracle, given America's conservative political roots and his liberal ones. But I also believe that if President George W. Bush hadn't given conservatism such a bad name and allowed the economy to crumble under his watch, Sen. Barack Obama would not be President Barack Obama today.

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By Bonnie Erbe