The political culture has changed, but arguably for the worse. Obama has already established himself as the most polarizing first-year president in modern times. There is anger all around. Those conducting focus groups report that citizens are turning against one another in a way that is disquieting. The political divisions within our society appear to be deepening rather than healing.
From the Obama perspective, the reasons for all this have to do not with him but with his critics. Many of them are, according to some of Obama's chief defenders, people who are racist and bigoted, Klansmen without the robes and hoods, individuals who have not made inner peace with a president who is African-American. Obama's critics are attempting to incite, or about to employ, political violence.
From the outset, Obama began pushing an ambitious liberal agenda in a nation that is center-right. Facing an unprecedented fiscal crisis, Obama unveiled initiatives and budgets that made things far worse. In addition, after a yearlong debate on Obamacare, the president is pushing his agenda over the strong objections of most Americans, who are saying, in every way they know how, "Stop." But Obama is indifferent to their wishes. He knows better.
Add to this the fact that a considerable number of Americans believe that the means that Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have used to pass health care reform are at best questionable and at worst an abuse of power, and you have the ingredients for a popular uprising against Obamaism, which is exactly what is unfolding. It doesn't help, of course, that the White House and its allies attack their critics in a manner that ranges from mocking to vicious.
The combination of an unpopular agenda being advanced through ugly and indefensible back-room deals, without any of the transparency that Obama promised, has created a sense among a growing number of Americans of ressentiment.
Some trends we are seeing, in terms of the tone and civility in politics, are disturbing.
This is not the platform on which Obama ran and won. He raised, to great effect, expectations beyond anything we had ever seen. He is the person who portrayed himself as the healing balm for American politics. He would reach across the aisle. He would inspire comity and common purpose.
The president is violating, on a routine basis, his core campaign commitment. He deserves to be, and he and his party will be, held accountable for the seeds they have sown, for the fissures they have created, and for the disharmony they have caused.
"Hope and change" seem like a lifetime ago.