Prediction: The president AFTER Obama will also be the most polarizing ever

So I saw this Tweet over the weekend:

… and I really didn’t need to follow the link.

Of course it’s not entirely his fault. Just as it wasn’t entirely George W. Bush’s fault that he was the most polarizing president before Obama was.

Basically, we’re on a downward trajectory in terms of unreasoning partisan polarization that first started showing up in the early ’80s (a spate of unusually negative ads across the country in the ’82 campaign, the rise of Lee Atwater), and really blossomed with the election of Bill Clinton 10 years later — the first sign, for me, was the “Don’t Blame Me; I voted Republican” bumper stickers that showed up after Election Day 1992 and before Clinton even took office.

From the start, from before the start, Republicans abandoned the “loyal opposition” stance and treated Clinton as illegitimate.

Things got worse all through the Clinton years. They got nastier through the Bush years (and were nasty, again, from the start, with a brief hiatus right after 9/11). And as Obama took office, they just kept getting nastier.

Which to meet argues that it’s something about the rest of the country and our dysfunctional politics, and the president is just an incidental target of the vitriol.

If present trends continue — which they will, barring some horrific event that pulls us back together as a country, or some other cause for a drastic change in our political attitudes — then the next president, regardless of who it is, will be the “most polarizing in history.”

I hope I’m wrong about that, but I doubt it.

10 thoughts on “Prediction: The president AFTER Obama will also be the most polarizing ever

  1. Doug Ross

    Looking at the graphs, you could say that for the brief period of post-911 blind patriotism, W. was the peak President of our lifetime… and except for the final year, his father was the best President overall. Poor George Sr. – done in by broccoli, “read my lips”, and throwing up in Japan.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    H.W. benefited from conducting a popular, well-run, wildly successful war.

    Which is not to take anything away from him. It wasn’t dumb luck. He managed that very well, not only militarily, but politically and diplomatically.

    The one downside of that was that the price of conducting such a popular war was leaving Saddam in power… and letting him crush the people we had encouraged to rise up against him.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Can’t… stop… myself… from… adding…

      He certainly OUGHT to have conducted it well. He had the best resume for a president in my lifetime. And experience matters…

      1. Doug Ross

        And yet with all that experience, he’s the only one of the last five to not get re-elected. He was considered out of touch with the American public. That happens when you get old and set in your ways.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I didn’t say experience makes you popular; I said it helps you be more qualified.

          When I was typing that above, I almost said Bush was “the most qualified president since John Quincy Adams.”

          He wasn’t re-elected, either. Which I think was a dark day in American politics…

  3. Phillip

    George HW Bush did have the 8 years as Vice-President in addition to his other career accomplishments, but to call him “most qualified since JQ Adams” is giving insufficent props to James Buchanan (PA state legislator, 10 years in Congress including chairman House Judiciary Committee, Minister to Russia, 11 years US Senate including Chairman Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State under President Polk, Minister to the United Kingdom, and then finally President). Buchanan, of course, was also a one-term President, having self-imposed a single term limit (via his Inaugural Address, no less!) .

      1. Phillip

        Exactly. Surely that’s a contributing factor as to why he ranks at or near the bottom of most historians’ rankings of US Presidents…it’s not like these days when the campaign goes on for two or more years, he could have at least waited a couple of years to say he would not run again.

  4. bud

    Some historians regard Buchanan the worst president of all time. Not a good example to support the “experience matters” argument.

  5. bud

    The irony of those graphs is really amazing. George W completely failed us as president by mishandling the lead-up to 9-11. He totally bungled what should have been a pretty big red flag regarding the intelligence. Then on top of that he sat in a second grade classroom for 5 looooooooong minutes AFTER receiving notification of the SECOND plane hitting the WTC. And THAT set of circumstances is what landed him with such a high popularity rating? Rally round the flag effect no doubt. This clearly demonstrates that public popularity has little relationship to actual job performance, at least in the short run. People finally caught on to the horror of George W. Bush. Even Republicans were souring on him by the end. Unfortunatelly the damage had already been done. And we’re still paying the price.


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