Bill Galston, about whom I have said nice things here and here, asserts that "Bush is the most partisan president in modern American history." His argument is that Bush always moves to consolidate his base rather than conciliate the opposition:
In Galstons view, Bush bears principal responsibility for that condition, saying that on three occasions he passed up opportunities to govern from the center and work more constructively with the Democrats and instead chose a path designed to mobilize conservatives. The first came after the disputed election of 2000, in the early days of Bushs new administration. The second came after the Sept. 11 attacks, when Bushs approval rating rose to 90 percent. The third came after the hard-fought and polarizing election last year.
"While White House aides can provide familiar talking points on gestures of cooperation across party lines, the fact of the matter is on all three occasions, the principal thrust of Bushs policies was toward polarization rather than conciliation," Galston said. "We are now living in the shadow of nearly five years in which that has been the dominant political message coming out of the White House."
Considering the vitiol and venom coming from many in the Democratic Party--which began almost the moment Bush took office, if not before--its hard to fault Bush for attending to his base, rather than risking alienating it in the vain hope of winning over the Kossacks. If moderates like Galston could reassert control over their party, which I think is nearly impossible, there would be something to be gained by reaching out more frequently across party lines.
In any event, to heap all the blame on the President for the current state of partisan bickering borders on the ridiculous. Galston is more measured and makes more sense here:
"Unlike other political scientists," Galston noted, "my recent work has led me to conclude that political polarization has increased sharply over the past forty years. This phenomenon represents, not so much a shifting pattern of convictions in the population as a whole, but rather a changing distribution of those convictions between the political parties and among states and regions."
This line of argument suggests that our situation is part of a longer-term trend, not a product of the actions of one administration, which strikes me as more correct.