Barack Obama is Not Personally Responsible for Broad, Structural Shifts in Congressional Polarization

Adam Nagourney frets that Barack Obama isn’t well-loved enough by congressional Republicans:

Even if he goes the bipartisan route and succeeds, the end result could be comparatively modest: Perhaps fewer than 10 Senate Republicans, and perhaps not even that many in the House, party officials said. Social Security, by contrast, passed in 1935 with the support of 16 of the 25 Republican senators and 81 of the 102 Republican representatives. […] No less important, a partisan vote could also undercut the political legitimacy of the effort itself. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid were all passed with significant support from both parties, which is one of the reasons those programs have become such an accepted part of the country’s political landscape.

Taking the second issue first, no matter how many times pundits make this assertion about stability there’s still no evidence for it. That’s something folks should consider wrestling with. Second, Social Security is “such an accepted part of the country’s political landscape” that the President of the United States proposed dismantling it in 2005. So I dunno about this.

On the first, the issue is that we’ve seen a massive structural shift in the interplay of partisanship, ideology, and congressional polarization. Bipartisan coalitions, both for and against legislation, used to happen regularly because partisanship wasn’t well-aligned with ideology. Most Democrats were to the left of most Republicans, but many Democrats were to the right of many Republicans. American politics doesn’t work that way anymore and it’s mostly a good thing. But it doesn’t make sense to hold presidents from the Polarized Era to standards set decades ago.