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FDR the Divider

Occasional friend of the Ashbrook Center (our token liberal, as he likes to put it) and FDR biographer Jean Edward Smith writes in today's New York Times that FDR won by dividing, rather than seeking bipartisan consensus.  Smith is doing this in part to goad Obama and congressional Democrats to man up and roll over minority Republicans and business opposition to their ideas.  He's right--as I argue in my Reagan book, Reagan was a deliberately divisive (at times) and ideological president.  However, Smith misses one thing: divisiveness only works if what you split off for yourself represents majority opinion, and isolates less popular opinion.  The reason so many Democrats are fearful is that they perceive that forcing a division now like FDR or Reagan will likely leave them a rump at the next election, unlike the case with FDR in the 1930s or Reagan in the 1980s.
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Discussions - 2 Comments

"divisiveness only works if what you split off ... represents majority opinion." True, which makes Smith's piece nothing more than an exercise in partisan hackery.

Smith also elides the source of Obama's congressional troubles. Obama's problem on healthcare is not with the Republicans but with swing-district Democratic members of the House and red state Democratic Senators. This would be less of a problem if majority opinion really were clearly on his side, but most of the polls I've seen indicate greater opposition than support for the President's approach (according to the latest CNN USA Today poll reported by Booomberg it 51% against Obama's plan to 48% in favor - though the margins are alot closer than I'm comfortable with.

Obama needs a few Republicans not for their votes, but as cover for Democrats who are afraid that supporting a private insurance market destroying healthcare bill on strict party line votes will make them seem too partisan and liberal for their constituencies. If they can get a couple of Republican Senate votes, then they will be able to try to sell it as bipartisan and moderate regardless of its actual provisions

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