WHEN the annals of presidential nicknames are updated a few years hence, it will be obvious that Barack Obama began earning a certain designation virtually from the day he took office in 2009.
The Great Divider.
This will be an appendix to a list that includes The Great Emancipator (Lincoln), The American Cincinnatus (Washington), The Apostle of Democracy (Jefferson) and The Great Communicator (Reagan). These are flattering descriptions. They are also earned descriptions — unlike irreverent and partisan monikers such as Martin Van Ruin (Van Buren) and The Human Iceberg (Benjamin Harrison).
The Great Divider is an apt choice for Obama. He has earned it. The sobriquet isn't overtly partisan: Much of the man's political success owes to his penchant for dividing people into camps and appealing to one group by diminishing the other. This has been good for his career. But it has not been good for the United States of America.
In 2008, the president sold himself as a uniter. Voters weary of 16 straight years of divisiveness surrounding the White House rallied around this unity flagpole. Obama has failed to salute his own unity flag, however. He hasn't even flown it.
Obama solicited ideas from diverse coalitions — on health care, deficit reduction, business growth — but refused to listen. He pushed through a health care package with zero Republican support. He ignored his own deficit commission. He formed and then ignored and then disbanded a council of advisers drawn from the business sector.
The essential thing we've learned about Barack Obama is his belief that his way is the only way, dividing the populace into the Enlightened Ones who agree with him and the Less-Than-Worthy who don't. Syndicated columnist Michael Gerson calls this “the invincible assumption of his own rightness.”
This is not how it's supposed to work in a democratic republic. Obama's frequent riffs that he won the election and is therefore entitled to prevail in policy debates ignore two key facts: The Republicans kept control of the House of Representatives and 48.98 percent of voters last year did not support this president. Do their views count for nothing?
The Great Divider has displayed the arrogance of an FDR packing the Supreme Court because of their pesky insistence on keeping to the Constitution, yet Roosevelt brought Americans together in tough times. In his second inaugural address, Obama divided the country into those who care (he and his ardent supporters) and those who don't (Republicans, unhappy taxpayers).
Columnist Paul Greenberg said it was the kind of speech that divides, not unites: “Its principal connection to the American past seemed to be one of hurt, not pride.” Instead of rising to the level of a Reagan, Greenberg wrote, Obama lowered himself to the level of a Rev. Jeremiah Wright. He divided Americans into the “shrinking few” who prosper and the “growing many” who barely make it.
The Great Communicator, by contrast, promoted prosperity for all Americans rather than a transfer of wealth from the few to the many. Reagan championed merit and individual effort rather than perpetually pitting the greedy against the needy.
A unity president would embrace sensible entitlement reform. He would use his pulpit to convince Americans that hard choices must be made to protect future generations — especially the needy — from crushing debt. A unity president would not rail against a mythical “war on women” or the unproven assumption that recent fires, droughts and powerful storms are due to human-induced global warming.
The Great Divider sorts people into those who can't seem to survive without another government program and those who want to safeguard their assets against another unsustainable tax grab. He divides energy into the good green stuff he champions and the bad black stuff that powers the presidential jet between endless campaign appearances. The latter brings in billions of dollars in taxes; the former requires taxpayer subsidies.
America cannot, he said, “treat name-calling as reasoned debate.” This came in a speech with thinly veiled name-calling throughout, a theme we expect him to repeat during Tuesday's State of the Union address. To paraphrase Reagan, is this country more divided than it was four years ago? Of course it is. And Obama is a prime reason.
We need reasoned debate. We need a reasonable president. We need a uniter.
What we have instead is unearned, unwarranted, unrelenting scorn from The Great Divider.