America’s anger: Democrats started the political divisions, Barack Obama finished them
History shows that the two dominant political parties were almost always in conflict. From the political division between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams to today, reaching agreement and compromise was often difficult from the very start of the American republic. However, America’s current, deep political division is as bad as it gets. And it looks like Barack Obama — with help from the Democrats — launched this audacious modern day round of divisiveness.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the milder conflicts between parties generally resulted in simple gridlock — an inability to pass often important legislation due to the lack of a majority. There were few cases where every member of each major party voted completely together on major legislation while locking out the other side of the aisle. Most of the time there were at least some members of Congress who voted contrary to the rest of their party. They chose to place conscience or constituency above the pressures from their party.
Today’s political division is dangerously deep.
President Reagan had a knack for convincing some conservative Democrats to support his position on tax cuts regardless of their party’s official position on a given issue. These were the first of the so-called Blue Dog Democrats, those now virtually extinct conservative southern state Democrats. The Blue Dog Democrats provided the margin that gave the GOP a victory on Reagan’s tax cut plan. Their vote broke the gridlock that even then existed between the parties.
Those Blue Dog Democrats came out again, in 2016, to help elect President Trump. Handing the left side of the democrat party the protest shovels they needed, Black Lives Matter, Trump resistance, Move On, Free Speech, that have further entrenched the divide.
In the Los Angeles Times, Rep. Adamn B. Schiff (D) says:
“The radical nature of this government is radicalizing Democrats, and that’s going to pose a real challenge to the Democratic Party. The more radical the administration is, the more radicalized our base becomes … and who knows where that ends.”
Compromise today is very difficult. Gridlock is easy. Just do nothing.
Unfortunately, in 2018 the situation is worsening. Each side is entrenched in its position and convinced that the other side is not honest. Instead of the business of the United States, the business of Democrats is their pit bull grip on a false Russia narrative.
For their part, Democrats in the main seem to regard any Republican victory at all as illegal and illegitimate. There is no trust in Washington, no sense of unity and no respect for the opposing view
How did it America’s political division ever get to this point?
America’s current, implacable state of political division began during the 2006 off-year election. Prior to that election, since 1994 Republicans had control over the House of Representatives for a period of 12 consecutive years.
As often happens in mid-year elections, the majority in one house of Congress changes parties. In 1994, Americans were growing tired of the status quo — particularly the seemingly relentless increases in ineffective social programs and welfare payments. Led by Newt Gingrich, the Republicans scored Congressional majorities that year, which ultimately led to effective compromise legislation with the help of President Clinton.
In 2006, sensing a weakness in Republicans’ generally pro-business agenda, the Democrats campaigned on social issues like abortion and global warming. Aided in this by relentless media attacks on the Bush Administration and increasing fatigue with Middle East wars, the Democrats regained a majority in the House of Representatives. Upping the political ante, in 2008, Barack Obama was elected President vowing to “fundamentally change America.”
Most voters took that to mean that America would now focus on critical social issues. But Obama intended much more than that.
Obama’s fundamental change
Obama originally thought he would need at least some GOP support to push through a redistributionist agenda. The Dems had a clear majority in the House. But in the Senate, there were 41 Republicans who would never vote for Obama’s agenda.
In addition, Obama wasn’t sure he could get the support of all the Democrats either. In the South and Midwest, a few Blue Dog-style Senators still remained in Congress.
It was then that Pennsylvania’s Republican Senator Arlen Spector decided he supported Obama’s agenda. The former president welcomed Spector. In fact, Obama convinced Spector to switch to the Democratic Party. That was easy to do, as the left-leaning Spector had never truly been a Republican to begin with.
Obama then found he could give each of any holdout Democratic Senators something for their constituents in order to secure their votes. This tactic involved reluctant, essentially conservative-to-moderate Democratic Senators from Florida, Louisiana, Michigan and Nebraska. (Remember the “Cornhusker Kickback”?)
Obama didn’t need any Republicans
President Obama’s Democrat majority in the House and a clear supermajority in the Senate means that his agenda should have been quickly in place. He had the power to move legislation through Congress without a single GOP vote. Never before has a major piece of legislation passed without a single vote from the opposing party.
But it happened time and again early in Obama’s first term.
The ongoing disaster of Obamacare.
Obama held meetings with key lawmakers from both parties, apparently to listen to the views of all Americans. But since he didn’t need the GOP votes, he really didn’t consider the Republicans’ views. In this regard, the currently forgotten incident with John McCain is very telling.
When McCain became a bit persistent with his contrary views, Obama reminded McCain that he had won the election, so things would be done his way.
Obama decided he was going to put only the things that Democrats wanted into the developing healthcare bill. He did not ask a single Republican to provide any input. That not only left a deep scar with Republicans. It angered many more conservative voters. The normally narrow political divide was widening significantly, evolving into the angry and implacable political division America endures today.
The misleading ideology surrounding “income inequality” widened political division even further.
Since Obama’s only real focus was on social issues, including redistribution of income, the economy was not his top priority. That was very unfortunate since he assumed office right in the middle of the Great Recession, the worst American recession in decades. Since his policies and regulations primarily addressed “social justice” issues, his administration essentially ignored what it needed to do to jolt the U.S. economy back to life and put legions of unemployed and underemployed Americans back to work.
But given his strict Marxist upbringing, Obama was convinced that downtrodden urban populations needed protection from those people that caused their problems. Namely, anyone making a living wage, Obama reasoned, but most particularly the wealthy. Or at least those wealthy companies and individuals who opposed his essentially socialistic policies.
Those who have little in terms of wealth and possessions, he believed, naturally need thei government to give them more. More welfare, more food stamps, more free healthcare. Further, since “the wealthy” are clearly responsible for the plight of the downtrodden, they will pay. This put an additional wedge between the income groups. Worse, it created further downward pressure on the beleaguered, shrinking middle-class that Obama claimed he was protecting
Even Obama’s massive “economic stimulus package” targeted “socially conscious” industries and public employee unions rather than high demand industries. That’s that package failed to stimulate the economy while adding enormously to the Federal government’s already ballooning debt.
The resulting slow economic growth in this country meant incomes were relentlessly held down, especially for low-income earners — assuming they were employed at all. Yet instead of addressing the lack of opportunity for low wage and unemployed workers, Obama blamed the wealthy for the problem. He said that the reason some people had so little was that other people had so much. It’s income inequality that is the social problem that must be addressed, he claimed. Obama divided Americans again and again. Class struggle.
Today the America’s ever-deepening, increasingly violent and intolerant political division is slowing American progress. But the current violence, not to mention the attacks on America’s Bill of Rights, was actually set in motion 10 years ago, when a “uniter, not a divider” got the keys to the White House along with a Senate supermajority for his party.
It is time for America to recognize who and what started our political divide. And it is time to start narrowing that divide.
Michael Busler, Ph.D. is a public policy analyst and a Professor of Finance at Stockton University where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Finance and Economics. He has written Op-ed columns in major newspapers for more than 35 years.