The Public Has Got It Wrong

Tomorrow is a big day. The sequester will automatically come into effect and we will see across the board spending cuts.

What the actual impact of the sequester on the average American has been hotly debated. The President has been describing the sequester in Armageddon-like terms. “Do I close funds for disabled kids or poor kids?” he asked at a shipyard in Newport News Virginia. He followed this with one of his favorite themes: “We just can’t cut our way to prosperity”.

To be sure, we can’t just cut our way to prosperity and I do not believe that either party thinks that we can. Indeed, earlier this week, Speaker Boehner said, “Mr. President, you got your tax increase. It’s time to cut spending here in Washington.” While the GOP is in no way innocent in budget negotiations, Speaker Boehner does have a point. We need to raise taxes and cut spending.

The American public has made it clear – for the last several months – that they see a balanced, bipartisan approach to reducing the deficit as the way forward.

There is, however, some division in opinion on the sequester. A new WSJ/NBC Poll, released yesterday morning, finds that half of those surveyed think that the across-the-board spending cuts that will barrel into effect on Friday with the sequester will be too severe. And a smaller proportion of Americans say that they are necessary to reduce the deficit. Democrats would, unsurprisingly, prefer a plan that had fewer cuts and a majority of Republicans and Independents show support for the cuts even if they do think the sequester is a bad idea (which they do).

Debate over the impact of the sequester, and division along party lines, is largely to be expected. But there was one finding that I found genuinely out of step with reality and it has yet to be adequately discussed.

Neil King Jr. writes, “By a more than 2-to-1 margin, poll participants say Mr. Obama is doing more than the GOP to unify the country in a bipartisan way. The poll found 48% of respondents saw Mr. Obama as trying to unify the country, compared with 22% who said that of Republicans and 37% who said that of the Democratic Party.”

I can certainly believe that only 22 percent of the American public thinks that Republicans are trying to unify the country. After a divisive campaign and the recent debt ceiling crisis, there has been enough harsh language and partisan politicking to justify that figure.

But that nearly 50 percent of the electorate sees the President as trying to unify the country is completely incongruous with his actions on the campaign trail, through the fiscal cliff dispute, his inauguration speech, State of the Union speech and now during the sequester negotiations.

During the debt ceiling crisis we heard – over and over – that Obama wouldn’t let the GOP hold America hostage. “Republican leaders will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy” he said during a press conference.

And on the sequester, Obama has been fear mongering across the nation. The White House recently tweeted a picture of American soldiers with the caption “This is about men and women in uniform. Automatic spending cuts – known as the sequester – would reduce funding for army basic training and maintenance, leaving two-thirds of active duty troops outside Afghanistan with dangerously reduced levels of readiness.” They asked for re-tweets “if you agree [that] our troops shouldn’t have to bear the burden of deficit reduction.”

All the while, the President has been telling Americans that we “have to break the habit of negotiating through crisis over and over again”. Though I agree with the sentiment wholeheartedly, the President has certainly not held up his end of the bargain.

There will be no last minute arrival of a compromising, balanced Obama. Why would he change course at this point? He won on the fiscal cliff and he is riding high on the popularity of his social policies.

This is not the mark of a unifying force, but a president who is clearly playing party politics with the nation’s future.

It is a very scary reality that the most divisive president in recent history is viewed as a unifier. The American people have been starved of the kind of bipartisan, compromising lawmaking that we need to the point that they believe a man who has done nothing but divide them is working for their best interest above his own agenda. Nothing could be further from the truth.