Karl Rove takes to the pages of the Wall Street Journal today to make something of a counterfactual argument: President Obama is more partisan, and hence more polarizing, than George W. Bush ever was.
His campaign promised post-partisanship, but since taking office Mr. Obama has frozen Republicans out of the deliberative process, and his response to their suggestions has been a brusque dismissal that "I won."
Compare this with Mr. Bush's actions in the aftermath of his election. Among his first appointments were Democratic judicial nominees who had been blocked by Republicans under President Bill Clinton. The Bush White House joined with Democratic and Republican leaders to draft education reform legislation. And Mr. Bush worked with Republican Chuck Grassley to cut a deal with Democrat Max Baucus to win bipartisan passage of a big tax cut in a Senate split 50-50 after the 2000 election.
Mr. Obama has hastened the decline of Republican support with petty attacks on his critics and predecessor. For a person who promised hope and civility in politics, Mr. Obama has shown a borderline obsessiveness in blaming Mr. Bush.
To an extent, Rove has a point. As he writes, he Pew Research Center did recently find that the partisan gap in Obama's approval ratings -- that is, the difference in his approval among Democrats from his approval among Republicans -- is the highest in the modern era.
But Pew itself has said that blaming this on Obama is "unfair," that it's part of a long-term trend (which Rove acknowledged, to an extent) and that it's more about how high his approval is among Democrats and how unwilling Republicans have been to give him a chance than about his actions. Others have argued -- convincingly, I think -- that some of it may be due to the constriction of the GOP's appeal to an ever-more conservative base, meaning that self-identified Republicans are less likely to approve of a Democrat than ever before.
Rove goes on to say that the bigger issue for the administration is the president's approval rating among independents. He notes that in the Fox News poll, support for Obama among independents has taken a dive, and his disapproval rating has doubled, going from 16 percent to 32 percent. That's just one poll, though -- many have shown more stability, though the overall trend chart at Pollster.com does show a slight decline in his approval among independents and a substantial rise in disapproval. Of course, by the same token, it's hard to imagine that Obama's ratings could have stayed where they were when he was inaugurated. For instance, former President Bush's approval rating among independents in the Gallup poll had dipped below 50 percent before 9/11.