To Be Polarizing, You Have to Actually Do Something Polarizing
I am getting pretty tired of people referring to Obama as a “polarizer” or a “polarizing” figure. Sorry, but that’s complete bull.
Scenario A: you get a job in an office where there are desk workers and field people. As a person who works in the field, you start making all kinds of insinuations about the desk workers, calling them “desk jockeys,” “do-nothings,” and “lazy fatasses.” You begin to advocate for budget increases for field workers at the cost of the desk workers, and you spread rumors about the desk workers stealing supplies, taking too many days off, and spending most of their time playing games or surfing the web on their computers. Worse, you claim, the desk workers are spreading malicious rumors about the field workers, trying to get them fired so the rest will be disorganized and easy prey for office politics.
Pretty clearly, in this scenario, you are polarizing the office, trying to create a rift between the two groups.
Scenario B: you get a job in an office where there are desk workers and field people. You have a field work position. You do nothing untoward, just your job and not much else. Instantly, several of the desk workers arbitrarily decide that they hate your guts. They get most of the desk workers to agree with them, and begin a campaign to make your life miserable and get you fired. They start spreading lies about field workers, using you as a poster boy. They start sabotaging your work and the work of other field workers. They begin trying to cut every bit of the budget that might make field work easier, and every time you hand in work that they will later process, they “lose” parts of the work and blame you. You suddenly become the reason they cite for every bad thing that happens in the office, and some even claim that they will go on strike or up and quit unless “something is done” about you.
Are you a polarizer in this scenario? Pretty clearly no. Are you “polarizing”? Perhaps in a starkly technical sense—but not because of anything you did. Describing you as “polarizing” is patently misleading, as it implies that the polarizing is somehow your doing. Worse, if you object to this patently unfair treatment, you are even more strongly labeled a “polarizer”—“See? Look how he’s bashing the desk workers!”
To polarize is to “divide or cause to divide into two sharply contrasting groups or sets of opinions or beliefs.” The thing is, when you do nothing that could reasonably cause such division, but others overreact bizarrely because they decide they do not like you, then you’re not doing the polarizing. If you come to a group of people and say, “I’d like to do something about this issue, so let’s begin by using your plan with a couple of my ideas thrown in,” and they react by rejecting not only your ideas but their own plan, calling it the most drastically radical and disastrous idea ever, and instead spend all their time twisting and distorting the proposal and fighting against it only because you are proposing it—I’m sorry, but no way on Earth are you the one being “polarizing.”
And that’s the case with Obama. Despite constant references to Obama “polarizing” the country, he has done nothing of the sort. He has gone a great distance to give everyone what they want, to ameliorate the dissatisfaction of his political opponents. He has done pretty much what he promised when he campaigned in 2008: to try to bring everyone’s concerns to the table, address them, and find a solution that everyone can get behind.
I am not saying this out of admiration; I wish he wouldn’t do that, because it’s stupid. When your opposition is bent on making you fail, when they obviously will not cooperate no matter how much you give them, when you wind up giving them more than they originally asked for and still they vehemently oppose you—then you’re an idiot to keep on trying that strategy. When someone not only refuses to work with you but takes every opportunity to knock you down and crack your head open, you don’t keep on trying to shake their hand. You have to deal with the situation you’re confronted with.
The point, however, is that Obama is not the polarizer nor is he in truth polarizing. Republicans are clearly, undeniably responsible for the divisions we see today, taking extremist positions solely out of an unreasoning hatred for Obama—a hatred founded in the desire to crush the opposition for the sake of gaining power, money, popularity, and influence.