Michael Gerson's Blinders

It is a pity about Michael Gerson. I want his articles to be better than they are. I want there to be a place in our political dialogue for an articulate conservative evangelical with a strong interest in Catholicism. But, he always manages to disappoint, usually by missing what is abundantly obvious to the rest of us.

This morning’s article bears the improbable title "The Most Polarizing President" over a photo of President Obama. Gerson points out that in President George W. Bush’s first few months, the difference between his approval rating among Republicans and his approval ratings among Democrats was 51 percentage points. But, Obama’s is 61 percent. Gerson points out that in earlier times, a majority of Democrats approved of Richard Nixon’s job performance and a majority of Republicans approved of Jimmy Carter’s in the first months of their presidency. Voila. Q.E.D. Obama must be polarizing, and uniquely so and Gerson goes on to chastise the President for failing to win the votes of any Republicans for his budget.


The thing that Gerson misses, of course, is that the President enjoys a sixty-six percent approval rating from all Americans while the Republican Party now claims the loyalty of only 24 percent of Americans. That number is "as low as it has ever gotten" according to numbers’ cruncher extraordinaire Nate Silver at www.fivethirtyeight.com. That number also, overlaps entirely, with those who self-identify as very conservative. So, the problem is not that the President has failed to attract moderate Republicans. The problem is that there are no more moderate Republicans to attract.

Take Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter. He is hardly a fire-breathing conservative. He hails from a swing state. But, his principal concern as he seeks re-election in 2010 is a primary challenge from a more conservative Republican. Last time he ran, in 2004, Specter narrowly beat conservative Congressman Pat Toomey in the GOP primary, 51-59 percent. In the general election, he beat Democrat Joe Hoeffel easily, by ten points. Do you think Specter can afford to be seen voting for the President’s budget?

The Republican Party has a problem. At a time when America is becoming more diverse racially, the Republican Party is becoming more white. Blacks were undoubtedly going to support Obama in record numbers the same way Greeks turned out for Mike Dukakis in 1988, but Obama also reversed the Democrats’ fortunes among Latinos, winning their vote by two-to-one. But, the real problem for the GOP is that their party is now so heavily concentrated in the South where conservative politics still sell even while the rest of the country has shifted. Gerson condemns Obama for being "conventionally liberal" but, again, what he misses is that the center has shifted. Supporting universal health insurance may have been liberal ten years ago. It is mainstream today.

The GOP has another problem too. Young people love the President. Last night, after winning the national championship and being named Final Four MVP, the University of Connecticut’s star center Tina Charles did not announce she was going to Disneyworld. "I just want to say one thing," she told the crowd of 18,478. "President Barack Obama, I’ll be seeing you soon." Can you think of any other politician about whom such a thing would be said at such a moment? I can’t.

Poor Michael Gerson. The wind at his back is an ill wind and it is bringing him and his party into dangerous territory. 24 percent and dwindling. A conservative movement that is out of ideas. Intra-party struggles against those who are not ideologically pure. He can blame Obama all he wants but the reason there is so little bipartisanship in Washington has to do with the internal dynamics of the Republican Party. And, he is smart enough to know it.




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9 years 9 months ago
"Twenty four percent and dwindling" is not really accurate. Politics is cyclical - it is as premature to count out the Republican party as it was to discount the Dems after the 04 election. It's also innaccurate to say the center has shifted. Elections are won and lost a small number of core issues that command the attention of the American people. When Bush won re-election in 2004, it was not because the center had suddenly become more conservative, it was because people were anxious about national security concerns. Obama got in in 08 because of the economy, period - we didn't suddenly become center-left. We are not quite that schizophrenic. The GOP started to get into trouble when it assumed that its victory meant the American people who gung ho for the entire conservative agenda. The Dems should learn a lesson from them and tread carefully, so that when the cycle inevitably changes the backlash is limited.
9 years 9 months ago
Given Mr. Winter’s many anti-Republican diatribes (consider his Mar 20 and 14 Feb posts), I am skeptical of his diagnosis and advice to the Republican Party. It’s the typical partisan rhetorical technique of “my opponent would be smarter if he were more like me.” This is something I would expect at “the Nation” or “Daily Kos” but at America Magazine? Nevertheless, did you ever consider Republicans don’t want to be Democrats because their ideas and philosophies are different? As for health care, Mr Winters writes “Supporting universal health insurance may have been liberal ten years ago. It is mainstream today.” We shall see! Here is a news flash: With 41 seats in the Senate and 178 in the House, Republicans can’t stop anything. If and when universal health care goes down in flames who will be blamed?
9 years 9 months ago
Cue Marvin Gay--- Mercy, mercy me, things ain't what they used to be. In typical Republican fashion, Gerson is compelled to look backward (Carter, Nixon and GWBush) to the good old days. One can only imagine the acid reflux Republicans must have to cope with watching Obama bask in the international limelight without having shoes thrown at him. Pass the Zantac!


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