Earlier this month, when President Obama refused to deal with Republicans on the debt ceiling crisis, we took the opportunity to note that he has been the most polarizing and divisive president at least in modern history -- the "Great Divider." Through his circumvention of Congress to make illegal recess appointments, a re-election campaign based on phony and contentious issues such as the "War on Women" and his poisonous rhetoric aimed at America's job creators, Obama has worked hard to divide America along the lines of party, class, religion and sex, even as his liberal defenders in the mainstream media have worked to divide it along the lines of race.
As a result, America is as divided as ever.
As he begins his second term, we now have statistical evidence. Obama is tied with President George W. Bush as the most polarizing president in modern history, according to a new Gallup poll. Both share the same 76-point gap between Republican and Democrat approval in their fourth year in office. And importantly, this is so despite the fact that Obama hasn't committed thousands of U.S. troops to long and unpopular foreign wars.
Most of Obama's polarization can be attributed to the sharply partisan re-election campaign waged by the president last year. He also took several cynical and polarizing unilateral policy actions to excite his liberal base as the election drew near.
The January 2012 "recess" appointments, now invalidated by an appeals court, stand as a reminder of Obama's disrespect for the coequal legislative branch. So does his endless rhetoric about not being able to wait for approval from the people's elected representatives in order to bring big change to America. In an attempt to pander to political constituencies and donor groups, he chooses which laws he will enforce -- the Defense of Marriage Act, for example -- and also whether authorities will deport certain illegal immigrants. Some of these actions have amounted to legislative changes without the legislative branch's approval.
The administration's regulatory requirement that all employers provide contraception as part of their health plans would never have passed Congress as a law. But he pushed it forward as a major election-year item, despite protests from religious groups that it contains no meaningful conscience exemption. The mandate excited his base even as it stuck a thumb in the eye of many religious believers and drew lawsuits from religious employers.
Throughout his campaign, Obama endorsed a divisive war on wealthy Americans, insisting they were enjoying their wealth at the expense of the middle class. He followed through by insisting on raising taxes on the rich.
As signaled by his inaugural address, the president has big and very left-wing plans for his second term. With his already significant polarized ratings, however, he is becoming even more of a lame duck than he was already after his party was drubbed in the 2010 midterm elections.
The president, it appears, is no longer willing to engage Congress to pass meaningful legislation. As signaled by the fight over expiring tax cuts and the debt ceiling, he prefers to use crises to force his opponents into submission. If he succeeds, and some further part of his liberal vision makes it into law, it might serve to boost his legacy in some narrow sense. But should his policies fail before he leaves office, he may end his term with even worse public opinion ratings than George W. Bush.