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).