Taking the Measure: The Presidency of George W. Bush

By Donald R. Kelley; Todd G. Shields | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Mass Polarization during
the Bush Presidency

D. Sunshine Hillygus and Barry C. Burden

In the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush promised to be a “uniter, not a divider.” But whatever George W. Bush’s intentions at the outset of his presidency, he is widely recognized as one of the most polarizing figures in recent US history. Considerable ink has been spilled—by both academics and political journalists—discussing the nature and extent of polarization in public opinion under the Bush presidency. Many have assumed that polarization during the Bush presidency reflected his personality, leadership style, or governing strategies. For example, a New York Times editorial observed, “Mr. Bush, by temperament, governing style and political design, is a polarizing president like no other.” Political scientist Gary Jacobson similarly concludes that “it is simply not in Bush’s nature to concede ground…. It would go against his conceptions of strategy and leadership as well as his conviction that his positions are the right ones.” Following an interview with George W. Bush, Roll Call editor Mort Kondracke most clearly articulated this perspective: “The bottom line on Bush is that he seems utterly convinced in the rightness of what he’s been doing these seven years. ‘We must be confident in what we stand for and not feel like we have to subsume our interests, our beliefs, in order to reach a kind of unanimity in the world,’ he said. ‘And that also applies at home. So, people say, “You can unify.” But I will not unify if I have to compromise my beliefs.’ It can’t be much more stark and clear than that. The Great Polarizer will not compromise—and he won’t unify, either, unless, like Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan, he’s vindicated by history.”1

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