President Obama came to office promising an era of political comity, but even he has had to concede that his first 15 months in office haven't lived up to his campaign hope of transcending partisan divisions. While it takes two to tangle, we think the hyper-polarization owes more than a little to Mr. Obama's own rhetorical habits. More than any President in memory, Mr. Obama has a tendency to vilify his opponents in personal terms and assail their arguments as dishonest, illegitimate or motivated by bad faith.
Presidents speak to all of America and they best build consensus through argument and persuasion—not by singling out political targets, cultivating resentment, questioning motives and mocking differences of principle or political philosophy. Mr. Obama's bellicosity is no more attractive than Sarah Palin's attempts to pit "the real America" against the big-city slickers. And his rhetorical method seems especially discordant coming from a President who still insists, in between these assaults, that he is striving mightily to change the negative tone of American politics.
If the President and his advisers are wondering why his approval ratings are falling even as the economy is recovering, they might look to his own divisive conduct and the contempt he too often shows for anyone who disagrees with him.