Earlier this week, Rolling Stone published an extensive interview with President Obama in which the commander in chief went after his Republican opponents with notable venom. The interview sadly confirms what many of us have long known: President Obama’s transformation from post-partisan healer to hyper-partisan attack dog is complete. Why has this happened? Certainly, even those most skeptical of President Obama in January 2009 would have been a little surprised to read an interview that drips with contempt for so many of the president’s fellow citizens. Was President Obama always like this, and just hid his partisan side very well during the campaign, or is this a new attitude?
I believe it’s new — at least since he became president. My thinking is that Obama came into office with an idea in his head of what it means to be a conservative or Republican, and he thought he could work with such people. But his view of the right was not very well formed prior to taking office, and he has been genuinely surprised by GOP opposition. In response, he has fallen back on the partisan Democratic worldview.
Such worldviews are some of the most enduring characteristics of American politics. They are basically the stories that each side tells about itself as well as the opposition. The Republican and Democratic stories are substantively different, but formally quite similar. For instance:
(a) Each believes the other side has perfidious motivations.
(b) Each believes that, to the extent that the opposition is acting on principle, they are radical or foolish principles.
(c) Each believes that the other typically conducts the dirtier campaign.
(d) Each reserves to its own side all the credit for policy successes, and pushes to the opposition all the blame for policy failures.
(e) Each has a Manichean view of American politics and history, with its own side representing the forces of light and the opposition representing the forces of darkness.