The much discussed Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, which was released Thursday morning, shows a sharply divided America. Not much new there.
Half of those surveyed think that the across-the-board spending cuts that went into effect on Friday with the sequester will be too severe. And a smaller proportion of Americans say that they are necessary to reduce the deficit. Democrats would, unsurprisingly, prefer a plan that had fewer cuts and a majority of Republicans and independents show support for the cuts even if they do think the sequester is a bad idea (which they do).
To be sure, the impact of the sequester on the American psyche vis-à-vis economic outlook is a valuable addition to the budget battle discussion. But the finding that I see as most crucial in this poll is one that I have heard little about.
As Neil King Jr. writes, “By a more than 2-to-1 margin, poll participants say Mr. Obama is doing more than the GOP to unify the country in a bipartisan way. The poll found 48% of respondents saw Mr. Obama as trying to unify the country, compared with 22% who said that of Republicans and 37% who said that of the Democratic Party.”
That the electorate believes the president to be a unifying force for the country, and by no small amount, is completely incongruous with his actions on the campaign trail, through the fiscal cliff dispute, his inauguration speech, his State of the Union speech and now during the sequester negotiations.
Recent comments from President Obama include, “Republican leaders will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy” during a press conference on the debt ceiling in mid-January. And in his inaugural address while discussing climate change, he called Republicans neocons who don’t understand that “enduring peace and lasting security do not require perpetual war.” These are hardly the statements of a man working towards a united America.
Indeed, the president’s relentless engagement in identity politics – on the basis of race, gender, religion, and economic standing – has made him far from the bipartisan, solution-driven president he promised to be.
President Obama told Americans that we “have to break the habit of negotiating through crisis over and over again” and while I agree with the sentiment behind his statement, he has certainly not held up his end of the bargain.
Earlier last week, Speaker Boehner said, “Mr. President, you got your tax increase. It’s time to cut spending here in Washington.” And Speaker Boehner is right – it’s what the country needs and the American people want.
But history told us that there would be no last minute arrival of a compromising, balanced Obama. We are seeing a President Obama who is riding high on the popularity of his social policies and continually eschewing the importance of finding meaningful and substantive compromises with the GOP on the economy. This is not the mark of a unifying force, but a president who is clearly playing a partisan agenda.
What’s more is that the results of this survey continue to show a wildly out of control GOP. Though there were flashes of moderation in the wake of Romney’s loss from key players like Governor Jindal and Senator Rubio, but still only 22 percent of those surveyed think that the Republicans are trying to unify the country.
In light of this, the popularity of New Jersey's Republican Gov. Chris Christie is hardly surprising. A conservative politician in policy choices has been able to become a bipartisan force because he embraced the president when he came to hurricane ravaged New Jersey and because he has agreed to take ObamaCare Medicaid expansion.
It is a very scary reality that the most divisive president in recent history is viewed as a unifier. The American people have been starved of the kind of bipartisan, compromising lawmaking that we need to the point that they believe a man who has done nothing but divide them is working for their best interest above his own agenda.
Nothing could be further from the truth.