Karl Rove writes in the Wall Street Journal that "President Barack Obama "'has the most polarized early job approval of any president' since surveys began tracking this 40 years ago. The gap between Mr. Obama's approval rating among Democrats (88%) and Republicans (27%) is 61 points. This "approval gap" is 10 points bigger than George W. Bush's at this point in his presidency, despite Mr. Bush winning a bitterly contested election."
Mr. Rove then criticizes the President for this "approval gap," blaming Mr. Obama's "actions and rhetoric." Mr. Rove claims that in the face of Republican attempts to help shape policy, Mr. Obama's response has been a "brusque dismissal that "I won." Mr. Rove claims that Mr. Obama has left Republicans out of the deliberative process, hence this "approval gap" among the American people.
Even now my jaw hangs open at such a blatant dismissal of logical reasoning.
Mr. Rove, citing a poll from the Pew Research Center, has concluded that a president currently holding staggeringly-high approval ratings among the American people is "divisive." Think about that. If an amazingly high percentage of Americans approve of Mr. Obama, he should be considered "divisive."
Well, after all, it is true that Republicans appear to have a very low opinion of Mr. Obama, while Democrats view him favorably. That is the "approval gap" cited by Mr. Rove. For this Mr. Obama's rhetoric and actions may very well be to blame - when you vote for a losing candidate because you disagree with the winning candidate, the winning candidate is likely to do things you disagree with. Remember, if you vote AGAINST a politician because you DISAGREE with him, you are likely to DISAGREE with him even after the election.
But that is not the logical fallacy here. Mr. Rove is an acknowledged master at twisting and distorting facts, but the fallacy is not that Mr. Obama is doing things his political opponents disagree with - that does not make Mr. Obama responsible for some disagreement. It means Americans can agree to disagree, and they settle on what to do by voting on it - with some of us guaranteed to not prevail in our opinions on what we should do. After the last eight years of conservative rule, many of us know what it is like to disagree with the decisions made by a president. There is an "approval gap" between Mr. Obama's party and the party that opposed him - not exactly something that should shock anybody. But that is not the glaring fallacy here.
The fallacy is this: the implication in Mr. Rove's article is that this "polarized approval gap" makes Mr. Obama a divisive figure. He should therefore be less divisive - but how is that true given Mr. Obama's amazingly-high approval ratings? How can he be "divisive" if more Americans approve of him than they did on election day - an election he won handily, with all major networks declaring the election decided within minutes of the polls closing on the West Coast? Mr. Obama's election victory was not exactly a nail-biter. So if more Americans approve of him NOW than they did when he won his landslide victory, how is it that Mr. Rove can attack Mr. Obama for being "divisive" and cite real - and presumably accurate - polling data to support his position that Mr. Obama is driving us apart as a nation?
Because Mr. Rove fails to understand math. See, it works like this: voters each get only one vote. The candidate that wins the most votes gets elected. If he wins in a landslide, he has a lot of support. Even if some citizens really, really wanted him to lose, if a huge majority of Americans vote for a presidential candiate then he is not a "divisive figure," he is the winner of the election. If 10 weeks after taking office his approval ratings are even better than his margin of victory, the evidence does not support a finding that he is "divisive." In fact, the American People overwhelmingly approve of his performance so far.
But what about the data? Mr. Rove points out that most Republicans do not approve of Mr. Obama, while lots of Democrats (88%) do approve. Isn't that divisive?
Not when a lot of Americans decided to not support the Republican party in the last election. If you have 100 voters, and they are in two groups - Republicans and Democrats, and 100% of Republicans disapprove of you while 100% of Democrats approve of you, aren't you a divisive figure? Not if you got 90% of the vote. If only 10 voters disapprove - and they may very well REALLY disapprove - but you have the support of 90% of the electorate, then the People overwhelmingly approve of you and you are not a "divisive" figure driving Americans apart. Given your hypothetical 90% approval rating, you have united 9 out of 10 of Americans in support of you. But Mr. Rove will conclude from these same facts that you are the most divisive figure of all.
An "approval gap" between the dwindling and defeated Republican party, now only a majority in a handful of states, and the majority Democratic party, now triumphant, does not mean Americans are divided. They are in fact overwhelmingly supportive of our (note this Mr. Rove - OUR, yours and mine alike) new president. They are not more divided, they are in fact less divided than they were even on election day. Right now most Americans like Mr. Obama, including many who did not vote for him - he has been effective in gaining and maintaining the approval of the American people. There are those who would have preferred - and voted for - Sen. McCain, and yes, most of them disapprove of Mr. Obama just as on election day. But Mr. Obama won in a landslide, and his approval rating now exceeds his margin of victory on election day. Thus Mr. Obama is not a "divisive" president and Mr. Rove's misleading and untruthful editorial won't change that. Even a smart and experienced liar skilled in deception, like the masterful Mr. Rove, won't change a currently very unified and united American people facing unprecedented crisis after crisis into a divided and partisan on-the-brink-of-civil-war enemies who turn on each other.
But you can rely on Mr. Rove and those who still (somehow) agree with him to do their very best to try.