Obama and Polarization

Joe Klein responds to the ridiculous conservative meme that Obama is more polarizing than Bush, calling it the World’s Stupidist Argument:

Bush flunkies trying to argue that Obama is more polarizing than Bush was. Given the fact that Obama had to take dramatic action, at home and abroad, to start lifting the country from the mess Bush made almost everywhere–and also begin to turn the country away from the myopia and greed of the Reagan era–it’s amazing that he hasn’t raised more dust or teabags. And, I should add the fact that the alleged polarization mostly results from the fact that Obama gets extremely low ratings from self-identified Republicans, who constitute an extremist shard of a party at this point, is a badge of honor. (Commenter sgwhiteinfla points out that the polarization is also the result of overwhelming–88%–support from Democrats.)

In the long run, it’s a safe historical bet that Bush will prove more polarizing than Obama because he was such an abject failure in the job–I doubt we’ll ever see Obama submerge to approval ratings in the mid-20s, or launch wars peremptorily without cause or purpose. The constant sniping from Rove, Wehner and the others during Obama’s first 100 days is a deeply neurotic reaction to the enormity of their own cockups in office. It shows a profound lack of class or grace, but then, that’s no surprise with these guys, is it? They ran the country like thugs, and thugs they remain.

I don’t think it has sunk in for many conservatives that, while they might have had a narrow majority in what was essentially a 50:50 nation in 1980, their views now represent a shrinking minority. Sure, they might dislike Obama (primarily for imaginary reasons) even more than everyone else dislikes George Bush, but that is a poor measure of polarization.

Conservatives often had an exaggerated impression of their support, such as with their talk of the “silent majority” going back to the Nixon years.  They see the country as divided between Republicans/conservatives and Democrats/liberals and believe that at worse they have temporarily fallen a bit under 50% . Many think this is because they weren’t conservative enough. They don’t realize how repulsive the actions of George Bush were, not only to liberals but to moderates and conservatives with principles. Many of the current Democrats and liberals are people who voted Republican in the past while the Republicans are turning into an extremist regional party of the south and limited portions of the west.

Conservatives are not doing themselves any favors if they hope to regain the majority by spreading their paranoid conspiracy theories about Obama. Rather than reducing Obama’s support they are only showing how unworthy of support  from rational people the conservative movement has become.

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16 Comments

  1. 1
    Eclectic Radical says:

    I’d say it’s more than just a false belief in the division of the country between ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals.’ I believe that conservatives, deep down, believe that everyone really does think like them and that those who do not are somehow depraved or dangerous. One can see this in their characterizations of liberals. Mainstream American political liberalism is a far cry from socialism, it’s slightly to the right of center when compared to the left-wing political parties elsewhere in the world. In some countries the ‘conservative’ parties are to the left of the Democrats on economic and social issues. Yet the American right continually brands mildly liberal ‘progressive Democrats’ as frightening threats to capitalism and faith.

    I think some of Sarah Palin’s about ‘the real America’ (and similar comments by others) really reflect a genuine mindset among movement conservatism, not simply the outward expression of nasty sectionalism. They believe that Americans think like they do and those who don’t think like them are not part of the American mainstream at all.

  2. 2
    Christopher Skyi says:

    “Bush flunkies trying to argue that Obama is more polarizing than Bush was. Given the fact that Obama had to take dramatic action, at home and abroad, to start lifting the country from the mess Bush made almost everywhere–and also begin to turn the country away from the myopia and greed of the Reagan era”

    This is wrong wrong wrong on a couple of counts.  I don’t know if polarizing is the right word, but Obama is posed to have a much bigger impact than GWB, either negative or positive — probably negative (in terms of monetary and fiscal policy). He’s not evil or bad, he’s just . . . out to sea (actually, the whole army of economic policy makers are), and it isn’t just paranoid conspiracy-prone “conservatives” who feel this way.

    What follows is a bit long (reported on the Naked Capitialism blog), but just work through it and then I’ll make my point :

    The George Santayana saying, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” is so oft repeated as to verge on cliche. Yet the US variant of this syndrome is to be aware of history, then rationalize how it does not apply to us.

    Japanese policy makers from the early days of the crisis have been saying in an uncharacteristically direct manner that the top priority is resolving nonperforming assets. Recapitalizing banks without taking this step is a mere palliative.

    What is telling in this VoxEU account by Keiichiro Kobayashi is how the US and UK are going down the path of denial and expediency blazed by Japan in the 1990s. And Kobayashi contends (in classic Japanese passive voice) that America’s dud assets are two to three times the size of Japan’s at the time of its bust. Since the US economy (then) was roughly two times the size of Japan’s and unlike them, we did not come into our mess with a large buffer of savings, the implication is that our problem is more severe than theirs.

    And worse, when Kobayashi says the bad loans need to be worked out, he does not mean simply shifted somewhere else, as the public-private partnership provides. He means renegotiated, a near impossibility with structured deals.

    From VoxEU:
    Bad debt is the root of the crisis. Fiscal stimulus may help economies for a couple of years but once the “painkilling” effect wears off, US and European economies will plunge back into crisis. The crisis won’t be over until the nonperforming assets are off the balance sheets of US and European banks.

    In proceeding with financial reform in response to the financial crisis, the US has been injecting public funds into banks and struggling companies with little success, sometimes forced to do so repeatedly. It appears that even President Barack Obama, a leader upon whom the expectations of the world await, has been unable to cut the Gordian knot.

    The global financial crisis triggered by the collapse of the US housing bubble has been far more serious and fast moving than the crisis following the burst of the Japanese bubble. Yet, just as the two crises differ in their depth and urgency, they also vary in terms of the speed at which they have been dealt with. Indeed, US and European policymakers have responded to the ongoing crisis with much greater alacrity than did Japanese policymakers in the 1990s, or so it initially seemed.

    However, as we move beyond the emergency response stage and face the challenge of correcting the fundamental problems that caused the financial crisis, things appear to be quite different. Watching how President Obama has had to continually struggle to work with Congress, I cannot help but realize, all things considered, that politicians in the US, or those in Europe for that matter, are not much different from their Japanese counterparts.

    Particularly striking to me has been some of the remarks I have heard from US and British think-tank researchers at recent seminars and conferences. In essence, their remarks can be summarized as follows:

    Because we USs are extremely optimistic people, we will regain our confidence and begin to increase consumption in one year’s time.

    By stimulating demand through fiscal measures, the prevailing pessimism can be dispelled and confidence in the economy will be restored.

    Déjà vu of Japan in the 1990s

    It was a bizarre experience. I felt as if I were hearing USs and British recite the same words Japanese politicians, bureaucrats, and bank officials had repeated so many times during the first half of the 1990s. When the finance ministers and central bank governors from the Group of Twenty (G20) major economies met in Horsham, England on March 13-14, they devoted much of their time to discussing fiscal measures. As evidenced by this fact, excessive expectations are being placed on fiscal policies. It is relatively easy to get the people’s approval for using fiscal expenditures to finance public works projects, tax breaks, employment measures, and so forth.

    I am afraid that today’s US and European leaders might be adopting the same mentality as that of the Japanese leaders in the 1990s. That is, it seems to me that they are clinging to wishful thinking by hoping that all of the current global economic problems will solve themselves in due time. As this situation prolongs itself, leaders may buy time with pain-relieving fiscal measures, but by doing so they will continue to ignore the true nature of the problems before them.

    +————————–
    So — the problem is HUGE, the crisis was based in the global financial structure and started way way before GWB, and if anybody seriously believes the blame lies with GWB, they’re seriously and frighteningly clueless.

    This is what people sense, I suspect: a current government response that seems based in panic and confusion and is likely to make things even worse. Exaserbating this is  any public offical blaming GWB for the crisis. That  just raises the panic (among experts) because it suggest that government policy makers are even more clueless then they already suspect.

    It really isn’t Obama. He’s just at the center of something huge, and if Kobayashi  is correct, it’s going to get worse.  So you have some people clinging in understandable terror to Obama (i.e., save my 401K, save my life!) and those who suspect (like me), that he’s a good guy, but he’s way way out to sea and pulling all of us out — and down — with him.

    GWB screwed up Iraq and the Middle East — but all that was (and is, so far) far far away.  Obama’s waterloo, if it comes, will be  “home,”  “here,” and “right now.”   Yes, Obama, for better or worse, in the end, I think, will leave a bigger imprint than GWB.

  3. 3
    GB says:

    Ron, I agree. Here’s what I posted on the subject.

    Title: Obama the Divider?
    URL: http://essenceoftoday.livejournal.com/1872.html
    (My new politial journal)

  4. 4
    nomoreGOP says:

    “GWB screwed up Iraq and the Middle East — but all that was (and is, so far) far far away.  Obama’s waterloo, if it comes, will be  “home,”  “here,” and “right now.”   Yes, Obama, for better or worse, in the end, I think, will leave a bigger imprint than GWB….”

    While I do agree with a lot of your points about the arrogance of the US and UK politicians in not acknowledging the problems that paralleled the Japanese in the early 90’s, I do have a pretty big problem with this easy dismissal of what Bush and his cronies did to our country financially BECAUSE of Iraq and Afghanistan..

    Because of their “creative” budgeting during the past 8 years, they have done a great job in clouding any solid, concrete numbers for the spending that has occurred in the Middle East, but even with some pretty light estimates, the 1 trillion mark has been mentioned quite a bit..

    And honestly, I dont care if its 1 trillion or “only” 750 billion, the bottom line is that this money is GONE.. Not invested, like the recovery packages that Obama & Co. have put into place.. So to just say that Iraq is “far far away” is just plain not true..

    While I do think that this bubble was going to burst at some point, the bottom line is that the past 8 years accelerated AND magnified the current financial situation that we are in right now.. I mean lets be realistic here..

    In Bushes tenure, there was almost ZERO investment into our own Country (unless you include Defense Spending).. Zero investment into anything at all that is going to better the lives of Americans while also aiming to increase the GDP, or to ensure that we ARENT dependent on foreign energy.. All things that Obama has at least talked about.. Something the Bush administration could only seem to do when it came to this so-called “war on Terrorism.. ”

    It amazes me that everyone seems to forget good old Rummy saying this entire “conflict” would only cost 150-200 billion..  And who knows, maybe that really is the amount that was spent actually fighting the war.. the rest went to no-bid contracts and industries (banking, oil, defense prescription drug) that almost all of Bush’s cabinet stood to make HUGE profits from, if those industries were to thrive.. And thrive they did…

    I mean jesus.. The Bush family is so deep in oil money its disgusting…  Cheney was CEO of Halliburton.. which was the parent of Blackwater (now Ze) whos company grew something like 1000% in the Bush years.. Weird.. Then we have good old Rumsfeld.. CEO of GD Searle & Co, a Major Pharmacutical Company in the 80’s.. sells that and becomes CEO of ANOTHER Pharmacutical Company, Gilead Sciences, in the 90’s before Bush got elected..

    AND these douche bags are life-politicians (which honestly is one of our largest problems in Government today.. when people personally stand to gain from political decisions that they can influence.. sounds like a conflict of interest to me.. but thats an entirely different story..)

    So.. I am going to have to disagree whole-heartedly of your assumption that Obama will make a more negative impact/imprint during his time in office.. Monetarily or not..

    To be honest, I dont think we will EVER have another President as bad as Bush was.. Not only financially, but also ethically… Bush effectively tainted the entire United States, in the view of the World.. A pretty large “accomplishment” in such a short amount of time..

  5. 5
    Fritz says:

    Ron, liberals also tend to have an inflated view of their support.  It has to do with everyone talking mostly to people who agree with them.

    A number of years ago (1997 to be exact), a bunch of political activists in Seattle sat down at a coffeehouse, sipped their lattes, and decided to get the signatures together to put a gay rights anti-discrimination initiative, a marijuana initiative and a gun registration initiative on the ballot.  All together.  On an odd-numbered year.  Because all of their other friends on Capitol Hill were against discrimination, liked pot, and disliked guns.

    The result was rather predictable.

  6. 6
    Christopher Skyi says:

    “So.. I am going to have to disagree whole-heartedly of your assumption that Obama will make a more negative impact/imprint during his time in office.. Monetarily or not..”

    Nobody hopes this turns out to be correct more than me.

    And I completely agree with you about Bush — the cost of Iraq was (and is?) still kept off the budget books, most to help “sell” the war by hiding the true costs. 

    It’s not fair, but Presidents and the majority party are almost always held responsible for the economy, even when we’re going though a global synchronized recession, like now, where the variables at play are out of any one person’s or county’s hands.

    Where are things in the current “game?” It’s early, but Obama and congress have yet to make a first down, and the defense (the down turn) is, so far, outmanoeuvring them:

    The Economy Is Contracting A Lot More Rapidly Than The Government Is Reporting, Per TrimTabs (Zero Hedge, 4/1/09)

  7. 7
    Christopher Skyi says:

    “I mean jesus.. The Bush family is so deep in oil money its disgusting…  Cheney was CEO of Halliburton.. which was the parent of Blackwater (now Ze) whos company grew something like 1000% in the Bush years.. Weird.. Then we have good old Rumsfeld.. CEO of GD Searle & Co, a Major Pharmacutical Company in the 80’s.. sells that and becomes CEO of ANOTHER Pharmacutical Company, Gilead Sciences, in the 90’s before Bush got elected..”

    nomoreGOP — I’m not going to argue with any of what you said here.

    However, I will remind you about stones and glass houses, and how in a mixed economy, no matter who’s “in charge,” one doesn’t have to look far to see an example of an odious relationship between BIG Government and BIG Business (it’s called Corporatism, I believe).

    Front and center is the banking/credit crisis as big name economists continue their attacks on the Obama bank rescue programs.

    Yesterday Willem Buiter, one of Europe’s most highly respected macroeconomists, continued his salvos, contending that the funding was woefully inadequate to recapitalize or otherwise prop up financial firms. The longer the US delays winding up sick banks, the more time wasted and good money thrown after bad.

    Nobel prize winner Joseph Sitglitz issued even blunter criticism today (and it’s hard to be more caustic than Buiter), accusing the Administration of wanting to aid industry incumbents rather than fix the system.

    The worst is that the dim of criticism has been rising, yet Team Obama seems insistent on sticking with Plan A. At the rate they are going, they will succeed in proving the current system is beyond repair, and have spent enough firepower so as to have closed off other options.

    See: “Nobel prize winner Joseph Sitglitz Says White House Ties to Wall Street Doom Bank Rescue

  8. 8
    Eclectic Radical says:

    Team Obama is proceding with ‘Plan A’ because of the belief in the negative political impact of the unholy word ‘socialism’ as perceived from within the Establishment. The prevailing economic sentiment in both parties is supply side, President Obama’s economic advisors are not very different in their economic views than President Bush’s economic advisors. A lot of this is due to the Friedmaniac notion that finance drives government economic policy, so the political assumption is that financiers will be the best people to run government economic policy.

    It is worth noting the majority of the respected economists bashing the Paulson/Geithner bailout want to see a more aggressively Keynesian program including more government regulation of how banks function and emergency nationalization of the most damaged banks. One radical policy suggestion (which I find interesting) is to pass anti-usury laws favoring credit unions over banks.

  9. 9
    nomoreGOP says:

    However, I will remind you about stones and glass houses, and how in a mixed economy, no matter who’s “in charge,” one doesn’t have to look far to see an example of an odious relationship between BIG Government and BIG Business (it’s called Corporatism, I believe).

    Let me clarify my stand on this one..

    I agree 1000% that this isn’t a Republican or Democratic “problem,” but rather, a fundamental error in the structure of our Government… we are electing officials on ALL levels of Government that have so many differnt

  10. 10
    nomoreGOP says:

    sorry.. girlfriends damn cat walked over my keyboard.. lol

    to finish my thought…

    we are electing officials that have so many conflicts of interest that there is no way to ensure that they are making decisions that are going to benefit the average citizen.. If you scratch just below the surface of most of the legislation and deregulation that has plagued the US for the past 20-30 years, (from Reagan to the Bushes, to Mr Blowjob himself) its almost pathetic how many top officials ended up making millions upon millions on the back end while the rest of us are barely making our rent and car payments (if you are even lucky enough to have either)..

    The whole idea of being a “public” servant has gone from a noble, genuine want to help the society as a whole and ensure the safety and well being of our neighbors to some get rich quick scam.. Its rather sad..

    I just don’t think it is beneficial to ANY society to have the same people in charge, just playing magical chairs for 30 + years.. The lines between what is good for the country and what is good for “me” get blurred..

    And whats even worse, is that we have guys’ like Madoff and Blagovich that are just as crooked as crooked can be, yet they won’t get prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.. After all the dust settles, they will still end up rich.. I mean jesus.. Blagovich already has a book deal.. 

    Then, you have some kid in Los Angeles that gets busted for a couple grams of marijuana and boom.. federal prison for 5-10.. so what kind of an example does that set for our so-called “equality?” We have a completely segretated legal system that rewards the rich and punishes the poor..

    I think on top of term limits, there should be an over all cap on how long you can be in one branch of the government.. period.

  11. 11
    Eclectic Radical says:

    Term limits, looked at from a certain point of view, actually encourage corruption. If one can only spend so much time in a given office, then one has to steal more, faster to make politics pay. 😉

    More seriously, term limits are called ‘elections.’ If people are not willing to vote their representatives out, it is somewhat cowardly to legislate to force them out. It serves to deprive voters of their choice to keep or dump someone.

    Virginia has extremely strict term limits on the state house, limiting the governor to a single term… a good governor gets in and barely gets settled and he is out again. It makes stability of policy impossible when the entire executive structure changes every four years.

  12. 12
    Christopher Skyi says:

    “Team Obama is proceding with ‘Plan A’ because of the belief in the negative political impact of the unholy word ’socialism’ as perceived from within the Establishment. The prevailing economic sentiment in both parties is supply side, President Obama’s economic advisors are not very different in their economic views than President Bush’s economic advisors. A lot of this is due to the Friedmaniac notion that finance drives government economic policy, so the political assumption is that financiers will be the best people to run government economic policy.
    It is worth noting the majority of the respected economists bashing the Paulson/Geithner bailout want to see a more aggressively Keynesian program including more government regulation of how banks function and emergency nationalization of the most damaged banks. One radical policy suggestion (which I find interesting) is to pass anti-usury laws favoring credit unions over banks.”
    The Big Picture blog is probably one of the top economics blogs out there — read about the author, Barry L. Ritholt.
    Anyway, he’s compiled a useful set of video links of different points of view on the stimulus package.  With the goal of further educating readers of this blog (and myself), I point you to:
    Video-o-rama: Stimulus ad nauseum
    Well worth a watch!

  13. 13
    Fritz says:

    Apparently the only problems are among people with large limbic systems that press on their frontal lobes.  It’s Science!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ms45EzMR0f8

  14. 14
    Eclectic Radical says:

    For all the mockery that Janeanne Garofalo is taking from the right over this issue, and for the silliness of the ‘scientific’ claims  (in her defense, she is a comic and I certainly found it funny), it is hard to disagree with her fundamental statements about the majority of those in the ‘tea party’ movement and its leadership. Individuals get huffy and offended because they have similar feelings about taxes or spending, but the people mobilizing these events do not care about taxes and spending. They are the people who gleefully voted to spend us into this hole in the firat place, and who booed the guy who reminded them of that fact.

  15. 15
    Fritz says:

    My daughter said that she used to be funny before she stopped smoking.   

    She was not introduced as a comic, but as an “actor and activist”.  So maybe my daughter is not the only person with the “not funny any more” opinion. 

  16. 16
    jesmi says:

    Bad debt is the root of the crisis. Fiscal stimulus may help economies for a couple of years but once the “painkilling” effect wears off, US and European economies will plunge back into crisis. The crisis won’t be over until the nonperforming assets are off the balance sheets of US and European banks.
    In proceeding with financial reform in response to the financial crisis, the US has been injecting public funds into banks and struggling companies with little success, sometimes forced to do so repeatedly. 

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