Today Philip Klinker, a colleague of mine in politics and history, released a revealingsurvey on party polarization and President Obama. The survey suggests that Republicans are “inclined to accept the worst about President Obama, regardless of facts, and believe that he is not a legitimate president, making it extremely difficult for him to overcome partisan polarization.”
Initially, I thought “sure.” Then, to put a point on it, I said to myself, “to be sure.” But then, mulling this over, I wondered: What’s with the word “overcome” in this analysis anyway? Of course Obama cannot overcome or conquer partisan polarization. Polarization is the consequence of both parties and both popularly elected branches. Polarization stems from a collision from both sides.
To be sure, this collision is less one of ideas than it is a test of Obama’s leadership. And to be sure, this collision is not even about the usual presidential character issues. It’s about place of birth. This collision is about the absurd, demonstrable fact of Obama’s birth. Given his birth in Hawaii, which many Republicans believe falsely was not part of the United States, Obama does not have a right to rule. He did not have the right to be sworn in by the socially conservative Republican, and now Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Roberts.
What I discovered in my book Out of Many, One: Obama & the 3rd American Political Tradition is that polarization both helped and hindered how the opposition, the GOP, characterized Obama.
Here is the Leadership Flip-Flop:
- A win-win 2008 candidate who, once in office, emboldened great opposition with the rise of the Tea Party. Then:
- A lose-lose Democratic party leader in the 2010 midterm elections, Obama made virtually no inroads against a unified Republican opposition while also failing to form alliances with congressional liberal Democrats and progressive voters. His primary constituency—the youth—went back to college. Then:
He again became a win-win candidate in 2012 by successfully marginalizing the Tea Party and turning the War on Women into a War on the Republicans, creating a quiet rainbow coalition. Exit polls gave Obama a three-to-one edge among the 5 percent of voters who identified themselves as LGBTers, providing the “ultimate advantage” that pushed him over the edge. LGBTers, along with African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, and Jews, may each, as a group, be individually small, a single color in the rainbow with a specific cultural hue, but together they made up one-third of the electorate.
He is already being characterized as a lose-lose Democratic leader in the 2014 midterm elections. But now it’s time for that quiet rainbow coalition to start making a ruckus, and name Obama as their leader.
To let the GOP continue to get away with questioning his leadership means that social conservatives will divide and conquer the Democratic party, when it’s the GOP that has an identity crisis: Are they the party of SCAMs? Are they the party of Straight, Conservative Anglo-American Men or not?
The SCAMS have instigated a lot of wars. And the war on women, the war on LGBTers, the war on same sex-marriage, the war on same-sex families, and the war on immigrants could cost them the 2014 election.
The rainbow coalition needs to stop being quiet and needs to help Obama help bold progressives who share his ideas, like Elizabeth Warren or Hillary Clinton. Now is not the time to unite behind either candidate, but rather to unite behind the ideas of the rainbow coalition—which can be put simply as Out of Many, One. Obama supports a collaborative approach that recognizes the interdependence and interconnectedness of all Americans—except the SCAMs, who are trying their best to crush the rainbow or scatter the many by getting public opinion focused on a false set of facts—questioning, of all things, the legitimacy of Obama’s being in the White House