President Barack Obama and Governor Pat McCrory are in the same box.
Criticized by their opponents for being radical and divisive, they are, at the same time, dismissed by partisans in their own political parties as too moderate and too accommodating.
Both came into office promising, and genuinely aspiring, to bring a new spirit of conciliation and peace to a disrupted political order. Both hoped to bring an end to petty partisan divisiveness.
Now both find themselves characterized as demons rather than healers.
“There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America,” are the words Obama used in his keynote speech to the Democratic convention in 2004 to gain the hopeful attention of the entire country.
Those hopeful words previewed his 2008 presidential campaign, in which he promised bipartisanship and an effort to heal the country’s political divide.
It did not work, of course, and within months of his election victory, polls already were showing the greatest polarization of opinion about presidential performance in 40 years, with 88 percent of Democrats approving Obama, while only 27 percent of Republicans did so.
Obama supporters blame Republican partisans for opposing Obama at every turn and rejecting his efforts to find common ground. Conservative voices blame Obama. As the Washington Times wrote last year, “The arrogance of power overwhelmed the better angels of his nature. Those who questioned his policies were labeled extremists, or worse.”
In an election year interview with Charlie Rose, Obama conceded, “I haven’t been able to change the atmosphere here in Washington to reflect the decency and common sense of ordinary people.”
Much like Obama in his first presidential campaign, McCrory promised a bipartisan approach in his campaign for governor. After his election he said he was reaching out to leaders on both sides of the aisle to ensure a smooth transition.
“I don’t want to make the mistake of any party, which is become arrogant with your power or majorities,” McCrory said. “I think that’s a huge mistake both parties have made in the past.”
Today, after the passage of a partisan legislative program that is unpopular with many North Carolinians, McCrory’s bloom, like Obama’s, has faded.
A poll by High Point University showed Obama and McCrory tied with approval ratings of 39 percent in the state. A similar poll by Elon University showed McCrory’s disapproval rating dropping to 46 percent, not far behind Obama, who registers 51 percent disapproval.
Feelings go beyond mere disapprovals. A friend of mine who has little respect for the president or his policies told me he would have a hard time being civil to Obama, but would try since he is the president of the United States.
Maybe being civil is a start.
Maybe those of us who oppose McCrory’s policies should think about accepting a cookie the next time he offers us one, taking an opportunity to communicate civilly instead of rushing to demonize the gesture as patronizing and sexist.
Maybe there is a good example in a new book by NBC’s Chris Matthews, “Tip and The Gipper: When Politics Worked,” about the relationship between Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill.
Matthews writes, “Why won’t our leaders work to accommodate each other, employing civility as they cooperate to accomplish goals in the country’s best interests? Why must we continue to suffer their relentless gumming up of the works? What in our national character, in the ways we choose to deal with one another and respect different viewpoints, has changed so since the days of Reagan and O’Neill? How can we win back the faith that our republic is working?”
Reagan and O’Neill, Matthews says, “disagreed on the role of government, knew it, admitted it face-to-face. But they put concentrated effort into trying to get along even as they challenged each other. Why, we wonder, can’t it be that way again?”