Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Divider In Chief

The statement that Obama is "the most divisive president ever" has never been very resonant with me: when I look at his policies I see a mish-mash of right and left--even his signature healthcare plan, The Affordable Healthcare Act (which we all know as ObamaCare) was taken from mainstream Republican thought of a decade or two ago. He's been friendly with big business, bailed out the banks (TARP wasn't his--but he agreed to it and did his own version) and has waged war quite effectively--even more effectively--than his Republican predecessor.

If he was in bed with his green energy friends, Bush II was in bed with his oil-energy friends (Halliburton). If his stimulus didn't "do enough," charges that it "didn't do anything" are at odds with what we know of the facts (over 1MM jobs created according to the CBO).

He desegregated the military--but did it by eschewing judicial solutions over a home-grown approach. He hasn't even come down as pro-gay marriage.

Plus, people always like to argue that "Now is the worst time in history" or "We live in the end-times" or whatever. The rhetoric in the early years of the country was as vicious and partisan as anything we've ever seen today. It was overtly religiously centered and pulled no punches.

However ...
This Gallup Poll shows historic levels of polarization in partisans for a 3rd year president. Make no mistake: Bush II's 8th year still well tops anywhere that Obama is--but it's worth nothing that (a) this trend is likely to amplify as the year and the campaign continues and (b) Bush II's negative popularity is still impacting politics 3 years later (Jeb Bush is considered a non-starter because, well, Bush).

What if things Really Are Different This Time?

Why Would That Be?
I googled Why Is Obama The Most Divisive President Ever" and looked at the top results. Here's what I found (minus articles about him trying to be less divisive or general divisiveness discussion). Allen Schanman of Boca Ration (my home town!) writes a letter to the editor. Here's a section:
He espouses economic equality, just like the socialists and communists have always done before him. A failed economic theory that has never worked, in which the most productive are suppose to support the least. All under government supervised outcomes which are never achieved. He wants the government to redistribute the earnings and wealth of our citizens based upon what bureaucrats in Washington think is “fair”, through manipulation of the tax system.
I'm not sure he knows what communism is. A site called Flopping Aces has a lengthy post which goes into several sections: 1. He uses divisive rhetoric ("Bring a gun to a knife fight", "Get in their faces!", and "It's time to fight for it!") 2. He has "targeted" various groups for "ridicule" including groups such as Bankers (whom the president calls "Fat Cats"--a term I feel certain bankers have never heard applied to them), African Americans (he tells them to stop complaining--again, new stuff for them, I think), and even Americans (whom he tells us have gotten 'a little bit soft and lazy and lost our competitive edge'). One might almost think that with his 360-degree ridicule hose he'd be more of a common enemy and a uniter than divisive. But I do see what he's getting at here. 3. The Anti-Business thing. More about that in a minute. On the Free Republic there is this quote:
“All 50 States are coordinating in this – as we fight back against our own Right-Wing Domestic Terrorists who are subverting the American Democratic Process, whipped to a frenzy by their Fox Propaganda Network ceaselessly re-seizing power for their treacherous leaders.”
It turns out that rather than being ascribed to Obama--or even a staffer--it may have come from a user-generated comment on a website. But no matter.

Oddly enough, I had trouble finding cites to Obamacare and the recess appointments which, you would think, would be pretty divisive.

What Does It Mean?
On the rhetoric front I'm going to have to say I'm not sure that trying to rally your people to fight is particularly bad--especially since I wasn't on the shout-down-Palin crowd for her cross-hairs Gifford flyer. If someone on the right wants to make the call that calls to 'fight' are over the top they had better decry Palin first and foremost. The only person who got beat up by an Obama supporter that we know of was the girl who faked it.

Likewise the ridiculing and instituting communism charges are, well, ignorant. Communism and socialism hasn't changed since the Hermitage Foundation, Newt Gingrich, and Mitt Romney all came out with their pro-mandate statements. Marxism hasn't changed since 2008 where RomneyCare wasn't a problem for a presidential candidate. To think that these words are anything but labels is, uh, ... uhm ... well, hateful rhetoric? Meant to--uh--fire up the base?

Well .

On the 99% #Occupy stuff though, maybe there is a problem: is Obama dividing the country that way? It's a fascinating charge. Dave Mustaine of Megadeath charges Obama with being divisive:
“I think it’s really dreadful what’s happening. I’ve never, in my 50 years of being alive, listened to an American president try and turn one class of people against another class of people. I’ve never heard a president say, ‘Go down and join the protesters down at Wall Street,’ knowing that there are Nazis down there, knowing that there are people down there who are trust-fund babies, that are super, super wealthy and they’re going down there and pretending that they really care; they just wanna be part of the ‘movement.’”
Is he right? Well, for one thing ... he's not right. Obama, so far as I can tell, never said that. In a post titled Obama Comes Out In Full Support Of Occupy Wall Street Anarchy the quote is (from the article, which is what the author alleges Mr. Obama said):
"Referring to protests that have spread from Wall Street to London, Rome and elsewhere, Mr Obama said: “Dr King would want us to challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonising those who work there.” Mr Obama had previously said the protests “express the frustration” of ordinary Americans with the financial sector."
Did this guy even read his own post? Write it? Maybe the blogger just did the headline?

But beyond whatever Obama has or hasn't said: if Obama's tactics were to divide the 99% from the 1%, while that would be a division--to be sure--it could hardly be said to be "ripping the country apart"--unless the Republican Party --the whole elephant and it's supporters is there for the 1% (or, to be fair, maybe they just don't want anyone kicked out of the great American experiment. Let's test that: Gay marriage and integration into the military ... Hmm.).

What Do I Think?
I'm pretty unimpressed with the class-warefare angle. For one thing, it's calling Obama a Marxist without actually using the term. As the GOP realizes they can't--the sane ones, anyway--get away with that nonsense (it's too inflammatory!) they just pick a euphemism and roll on that.

Also, we're told, the GOP is the pro-everyone (but gays) party: they're the uniters of Real AmericansTM. If that was true, how come Gingrich--the guy who's at the top in the national polls right now (if only for today) is slinging anti-Bain stuff like it's going out of style? Could it be (a) that the position is nuanced or (b) that one's virtues are heavy and therefore the first thing jettisoned when the airship looses altitude. Either way isn't good because if Newt can be nuanced the Democrats can be too (and Obama).

The last few presidents that I have been aware of: Clinton, Bush II and, and Obama have been disliked viscerally by the opposite bases. In the case of Clinton this was comedy (the list of people the Clinton's had silently killed, for example). In the case of Bush II it was disturbing (Truthers). In the case of Obama it has become an actual movement.

That progression--the "weaponizing" of [Politician] Derangement Syndrome--is what I think might be 'different' now. We have a model--the Tea Party and the Arab Spring--that did not and, due to the facilitation of technology, probably could not exist in the past. Small organizations have easy access to the most powerful media in the world (anyone can cut a video and then distribute it to millions of people). Instant communications haven't just helped you find your kids at the mall--now you can organize a food tent. Electronic money movement for the masses doesn't just delivery Kindle books immediately to your iPad--it can also be used to donate to far-flung movements.

Email and other forms of electronic communication get the word out--even to the older Tea Party generation. If you can make a T-shirt, Cafe-Press can monetize it. If you can articulate a slogan, Twitter and a hash-sign can make it global.

With media outlets like Fox News and MSNBC--not to mention Pajamas Media and other on-line services--it should be no surprise that there is a growing divide. David Frum says 'We used to say you were entitled to your own opinion--but not your own facts. Now everyone feels entitled to their own facts.' I think that's accurate: my worldview is very different from the people's I read online--very different than that of my close friends--and all of us, with a mouse click, can be armed and loaded with talking points ranging from insightful to dubious to fraudulent--but who cares?

At the end of the day, the engine that drives this is emotion and the global economy is a dark engine that is pumping out misery right now. Our dialog--the dialog that wraps and frames the entire race is a reflection of that signal and the technology enablers that we use to have that conversation amplify it (the same way that instant movement of money 'amplified' the 'amount of money' in the world when the Electronic Funds Transfer network was set up).

Good luck.

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