During the 2000 presidential campaign, George Bush famously promised to be a uniter, not a divider. As we know, that didn’t work out.
Lately, Republican politicians have been claiming that Obama is a divider, not a uniter. Senator McConnell says that Obama is the “most divisive” president he’s ever dealt with.
“Divisive” is usually defined as something like “tending to cause hostility or disagreement”. Abortion, for example, is a divisive issue. With that definition in mind, Obama has certainly been a divisive president. So were Bush, Clinton and Reagan. The last president who wasn’t especially divisive was Gerald Ford, whose principal job was to calm everyone down after the fall of Richard Nixon.
Calling someone “divisive”, however, seems to imply that he or she is at fault. A divisive person is someone whose actions will tend to divide normal people into two classes, the pro and the con. Some people try to stir things up. Some people are good at stirring things up without even trying.
What is strange about calling Obama “divisive” is that he has usually bent over backwards in search of compromise. People on the left believe, with good reason, that he hasn’t been aggressive enough in fighting for his policies. We want him to be more confrontational at the risk of being more divisive.
Paul Waldman, writing for The American Prospect, explains why Republicans think Obama has been especially divisive: he hasn’t done what they’d like him to do.
A new study suggests that people on the right have a stronger tendency to believe what makes them comfortable than people on the left (for example, that Obama has been unwilling to compromise). That shouldn’t be a surprise. Consider how many on the right reject what scientists say about evolution, climate change or the age of planet Earth. Or believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11, the recent stimulus didn’t do any good or Obama is a Muslim socialist born in Kenya.