“In all, the most predictable message of 2012 is likely to be that after a surge toward the Republicans following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a tide of disillusionment with President Bush that lifted the Democrats in 2006 and 2008, and a sharp snap back toward the GOP in 2010, America has reverted to being a 50-50 nation. Which is, of course, exactly where we started this century after the 2000 presidential campaign that produced the closest thing to an electoral tie since 1880.

“But although 2012 will likely show the parties again converging in strength, all evidence suggests that they are diverging even more in philosophy and agenda. In 2000, after all, Bush ran as a ‘compassionate conservative’ who would govern as ‘a uniter, not a divider.’ That proved more of a slogan than a compass. But this year, the two parties barely even gesture toward the aspiration of reconciliation…

“So far, Obama’s second-term policy plans are more modest. But, in tone, he is taking an approach that’s every bit as pugilistic. Unlike President Clinton, who launched his 1996 reelection campaign by declaring, ‘The era of Big Government is over,’ Obama turned toward November this week by denouncing both the Court’s threat to his health care law and the House Republicans’ budget drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. The vast gulf between Obama’s fiscal priorities and the GOP’s (centered on whether to extend or even expand Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest) ensures intense conflict for as long as this president remains in office, even if, ultimately, he would likely pursue a bipartisan budget deal in a second term, as he did in last summer’s debt-ceiling standoff.”

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“President Obama suggested this evening that the Republican governing agenda will lead to ‘poisoning our kids’ with pollution.

“‘I believe that it is part of our solemn responsibility to future generations that we look after this planet; that we make sure our air is clean and our water is clean; that we’re not poisoning our kids,’ Obama said at a campaign fundraiser tonight. That credo came as he explained that ‘the contrast between visions in this election could not be more stark, because I believe that America is stronger when we’re looking for one another.'”

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“Am I alone in thinking that President Obama seemed angrier and bitterer and clingier than usual this week? Then again, you would be angry too if your best chance for reelection lay in smearing the opposition…

“The White House had leaked that the president would use the AP to turn the Ryan budget into a campaign issue. He did not disappoint. He accused Ryan, the GOP House, and likely nominee Mitt Romney of supporting a ‘Trojan Horse’ containing a ‘radical’ plan of ‘thinly veiled Social Darwinism’ that is ‘antithetical to our entire history,’ a ‘prescription for decline,’ and unpatriotic to boot. His face contorted into a grimace, his eyebrows narrowed, his voice booming and angry, Obama said the Republicans want nothing less than to harm the sick and aged while handing out $150,000 checks to millionaires and billionaires.

“The performance was so over the top it was almost laughable. The post-partisan reformer who claimed he would change the tone in Washington was again revealed as a canny pol willing to say anything about his opponents to win an election. Obama’s own Treasury Secretary has admitted that ‘We don’t have a definitive solution’ to America’s long-term entitlement crisis; but, rather than working in good faith to reform Medicare and Medicaid, the president wants to scare his way to a second term…

“One hopes that when the media inevitably scold Americans for conducting the ‘most negative campaign ever,’ they will acknowledge who, exactly, got the ball rolling. From targeting successful private citizens to claiming falsely that the Ryan plan ‘ends Medicare’ to belittling Romney’s wealth and demeanor, the Obama campaign has signaled that it recognizes the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act of 2009 is not a legislative achievement on which one might base a campaign. Obama’s problem is that with the stimulus a failure, Obamacare on the ropes, Solyndra a national punch line, the national debt exploding, and his only significant proposal an increase in taxes, Lily is all he has.”

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“The speech was an unusual and unleavened assault on the Republican Party. As such it was gutsy, no doubt sincere and arguably a little mad. The other party in a two-party center-right nation is anathema? There was no good-natured pledging to work together or find common ground, no argument that progress is possible…

“The speech was not aimed at healing, ameliorating differences, or joining together. The president was not even trying to appear to be pursing unity. He must think that is not possible for him now, as a stance.

“There was a dissonance at the speech’s core. It was aimed at the center — he seemed to be arguing that to the extent he has not succeeded as president, it is because he was moderate, high-minded and took the long view — but lacked a centrist tone and spirit…

“I guess what’s most interesting is that it’s all us-versus-them. Normally at this point, early in an election year, an incumbent president operates within a rounded, nonthreatening blur. He’s sort of in a benign cloud, and then pokes his way out of it with strong, edged statements as the year progresses. Mr. Obama isn’t doing this. He wants it all stark and sharply defined early on. Is this good politics? It is unusual politics.”

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“In 2007, he was the post-partisan unifier, a persona that could capitalize on the widespread frustration with the Bush years. Hence, The Audacity of Hope. Five years later, with the country as frustrated as ever, he has become a hyper-partisan hack who will blame anybody or anything to distract from his own shortcomings. Hence, his attacks on the Court and Ryan.

“This strategy might get him reelected, but for what greater purpose? Barack Obama intends to break the country into fragments by shamelessly playing one group off another, in the hope that by November his share of the pieces will be just a touch larger than the opposition’s. But how can he possibly put those pieces back together again, should he be victorious?

“Our system is designed to prevent big changes absent a broad consensus, which Obama has little hope of achieving with this approach. He will not get enough Democrats in Congress to replay 2009-2010, meaning that he will have to work with Republicans, the very people he is now villainizing. Does he think the sore feelings he has created will simply disappear? They won’t. When you lose somebody’s trust, you almost never get it back…

“Barack Obama should expect nothing more, and I cannot help but marvel at how diminished he is now relative to the heights of just 3 years ago. He was elected in 2008 promising a new kind of politics. Yet he proved himself unequal to the big challenges he faced, and to mask his failures he has hidden behind the nasty partisanship he once decried. As a consequence, he has divided the country and, should he win in November, will only continue to do so, ensuring America gets nothing meaningful done so long as he is president.”

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