Did Bush, Obama Squander Their Presidencies?

When arrogance meets obstructionism, dysfunction is born.

ByABC News
November 22, 2014, 7:36 AM
President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign rally in Milwaukee, Wi, Nov. 3, 2014; Former US President George W. Bush speaks at the Kennedy Center in Washington, Aug. 6, 2014.
President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign rally in Milwaukee, Wi, Nov. 3, 2014; Former US President George W. Bush speaks at the Kennedy Center in Washington, Aug. 6, 2014.
Darren Hauck/Getty Images|Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

— -- A few weeks ago I wrote in a column that "Election Day once again showed that our political system is broken -- voters went to the polls, sent a message, and then leaders will in the days and months ahead ignore what the public was trying to tell them." And President Obama's recent announcement bypassing Congress with executive orders related to immigration reform puts a highlight on our broken democracy.

We have two presidents who were given a great opportunity to fix the system in D.C. and provide common sense leadership, and both have forgotten that the means of governing needs work and just sought partisan ends. President Bush in the aftermath of 9/11 and President Obama in the days after his transformative election were each given a great window of opportunity by a huge majority of voters to lead in a different way. And both squandered this in the course of their time in office.

Americans have voted for two presidents in a row whose main campaign message was they were going to bring the country together, fix the divisiveness in Washington, D.C., and build consensus across the aisle. And in the aftermath of the presidencies of Barack Obama and George W. Bush the country is coming away more polarized and governance more dysfunctional. And both political parties have a growing demographic problem that will make it very hard for them to capture the hearts and minds of a majority of Americans while they still win elections (or more accurately lose less).

I have talked for years, and pushed while I worked for President Bush, that the GOP has a growing Latino problem. Republicans can't ignore this fast growing part of the electorate and expect to be a majority party. Conversely, Democrats have a huge problem with white, working-class voters, especially males, that they must fix. Ever since President Clinton's re-election in 1996, Democrats have done considerably worse among white male voters even while winning elections. In the 2014 general election, Latinos represented 8% of all the votes cast and the GOP lost them by 26 points; white male voters were 37% of all votes, and Democrats lost this group by 31 points. The demographic vice is squeezing both parties.

And simultaneously to all this there has been a consistent rise in voters who are fed up with both political parties and who are now calling themselves independent. Faster than the growth of Latino voters and the rise of the angry white male is a growing group of voters who are registering as something other than Republican or Democrat. In state after state, voters are opting out of casting ballots in primaries and are picking a third way to express themselves. For now, this has been heard in ways of a voice of consistent frustration or by voting each party out of office every two years, but at some point independent candidates will begin to find success. And then maybe this red/blue monopoly will be broken. One can hope, and also see it realistically coming.

I agree with President Obama on the substance of what he has done on immigration and I support the compassion for folks who live in the shadows in our country, but I totally disagree with the manner with which he has done it. His party just lost a midterm election and if the president really wanted to fix things in this country he wouldn't have just stuck a finger in the eye of the opposition. The country keeps asking for the means of governing to be fixed, and President Obama's actions on immigration only exacerbates the governance problem.