Obama's new approach is more Rovian than Rove 

President Obama's brand is in trouble.

A man whose unlikely campaign for the White House was based on binding up old wounds from the culture wars that divided America has embraced the politics of division.

The speech that launched Obama to the presidency was the one he made at the 2004 Democratic convention.

Obama, a state legislator running for the U.S. Senate, denounced "those who are preparing to divide us," a clear reference to the tactics of Republicans and their master of the dark arts, Karl Rove.

"Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America.

"There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America."

Contrast that to what Obama said this week in his kickoff to his party's 2010 electoral push:

"It will be up to each of you to make sure that the young people, African-Americans, Latinos and women, who powered our victory in 2008, stand together once again."

White men apparently need not apply, and Asians have been forgotten altogether.

Even Richard Nixon felt obliged to talk about a "silent majority" rather than speaking of white, middle-class voters frightened by cultural unrest. Perhaps never before has a president so brazenly tried to benefit from the cultural and racial divides that plague America.

Defenders of the president called his remarks "frank" and "realistic," but it is hard to see the new Obama way as anything but cynical and exploitative.

If there was any doubt about the divisive aims of Obama's 2010 strategy, his man at the Democratic National Committee, former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, wiped them away when he issued a pre-emptive warning about Republican racism two days later: "We know the Republican Party still seeks to suppress the vote and initiate arbitrary challenges, particularly challenging minority and low-income voters."

Obama and Kaine once lamented Republican efforts to exploit fears and divisions. Now they are more Rovian than Rove.

The preferred wedge issue for the president this year is immigration.

He is pushing the issue at a time when serious moderates warn that doing so may prevent an agreement and push back a long-term solution. But the goal is not to obtain a good legislative outcome, but instead to rile up his base and demonize his opponents.

In 2004, Republicans and President Bush used the issue of gay marriage to similar effect.

Rove says that the issue was thrust on Bush by a 2003 court decision legalizing gay marriage, just as the Obama team now holds that the president has no choice but to take on the issue because of a new crackdown on illegals in Arizona.

Whatever the rationales, the Obama and Bush operations are the same in trying to exploit sensitive policy issues for political benefit.

For Obama's team to use immigration is even worse, though, because it's one of the biggest problems facing America.

The Bush team benefited from whipping up a side issue and forcing John Kerry to remind Catholic voters that he was the candidate of gay weddings.

Today, most people accept that nothing will turn the tide toward gay marriage. It is a moot point. No one believes that illegal immigration will fade as an issue in the next six years.

It has not disappointed the American electorate that Obama has provided less change from his predecessor's policies than promised.

Obama enjoys his strongest ratings on foreign policy. The president's most notable positions in this arena include failing to deliver on his promise to treat terrorists as criminal defendants instead of enemy combatants, a faithful devotion to President George W. Bush's timetable for Iraq, and a nation-building strategy for Afghanistan that would make even the staunchest neo-con blush.

Obama scores worst on his domestic agenda.

At home, unlike in his foreign policy, Obama has opted for rank partisanship and dismissive attitude toward the opposition in crafting his health care and economic policies.

Just because Americans trust the president more than the Republicans in Congress doesn't mean that moderate voters don't want Obama to show some grace and humility in shaping his policies.

The president and his team have devised an ugly plan to stave off electoral disaster and cling to power this fall by deepening divisions and pitting Americans against each other.

What they will find is that in resorting to tactics they once decried, the president will have lost the good will of the independent voters whose support made his unlikely and inspiring ascension possible.

Chris Stirewalt is the political editor of the Washington Examiner. He can be reached at cstirewalt@washingtonexaminer.com.

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