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Opinion: Columnists

Mark Tapscott: One dinner does not a Great Divider unmake

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Tennessee's Sen. Bob Corker -- one of a dozen Republicans invited to break bread with President Obama this week -- emerged from the dinner Wednesday evening describing the atmosphere and discussion as "sincere and open."

That shouldn't be newsworthy, but these aren't normal times.

To hear mainstream media sages like CBS' Norah O'Donnell tell it, the problem is the intractability of "the Republican leadership" in their dealings with Obama, who, as a result, believes having a "clear and open discussion" with them is impossible.

Set aside for a moment O'Donnell's and other mainstream media types' habit of peddling such White House talking points as gospel, and focus for a second on some simple facts:

* A Jan. 24, 2013, Gallup poll headline said, "Obama's fourth year in office ties as most polarized ever." The tie was with George W. Bush's fourth year in office. For both men, there was a 76-point differential in their approval ratings among Democrats and Republicans.

Bush also presided over the second, third, fifth and seventh (in a tie with Bill Clinton) most politically polarizing years in modern American history, with Obama winning the fourth and sixth slots.

* Bush's numbers in his fourth year were 91 percent approval among Republicans and 15 percent among Democrats. Obama's fourth-year numbers were 86 percent among Democrats and 10 percent among Republicans.

At first glance, the numbers suggest that this intense partisan division among Americans can be sourced to Bush, whose tenure was bookmarked by 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Great Recession of 2008.

But look a little closer: Obama inherited from Bush a nation that was dispirited, worn out by a decade of war, fearful of the economic future and riven by deepening divisions over social issues like gay marriage.

If ever the country needed a unifying leader capable of overcoming partisan politics by seeking and building on compromise and concession in the public interest, it was Jan. 22, 2009, when Obama took the oath of office.

There was reason to believe that was the kind of president he would be, too, because during the 2008 campaign, he promised he would be a different kind of leader, one who would leave the old politics behind.

There was also his unique status as America's first black president. Such a conjunction of history, circumstance and character could happen only once, and, for better or worse, it was given to Obama to do with as he would.

Six weeks into his second term, the dinner with the GOP dozen helps bring into focus what, tragically, will probably become history's verdict on the Obama presidency. Obama has been a divider, not a unifier.

This was so in the opening weeks of his first term, when he derisively greeted congressional Republican attempts to influence his economic stimulus package with a reminder that "I won."

It continued through the partisan passage of Obamacare and with his incessant demands for higher taxes on the rich (out of "fairness," whether or not they reduce the deficit), to a re-election campaign that aimed to "kill Romney."

At the moment America needed a man to bring us together, Obama set about systematically tearing us apart throughout his first term. He capped it off with his breathtakingly partisan second inaugural address, with his most recent State of the Union address as a chaser.

Now we have it from no less an authority than the Washington Post that even some of Obama's former White House advisers view his second-term obsession with killing the House Republican majority in 2014 as evidence of "hubris."

But isn't that precisely what we should expect of the Great Divider?

Mark Tapscott is executive editor of The Washington Examiner.

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