As could have been predicted, Democrat Obama’s wide margin of victory has incited frenzy among Republican’ts to see who can be the first and loudest to deny that it gives the 44th president a governing “mandate.” In the Chicago Sun-Times, perpetually cranky columnist Robert Novak writes:
When Franklin D. Roosevelt won his second term for president in 1936, the defeated Republican candidate, Gov. Alf Landon of Kansas, won only two states, Maine and Vermont, and Democrats controlled both houses of Congress by wide margins.Novak apparently hopes nobody will remember that, in 2004, when George W. Bush was elected to the White House with a 51 percent majority, he dismissed naysayers contending that Bush hadn’t won a mandate. Bush, let us recall, triumphed over John F. Kerry in that race by only a 3 million vote margin. In comparison, Obama trounced McCain by more than 12.5 million votes--four times Bush’s margin of victory.
But Obama’s win was nothing like that. He may have opened the door to enactment of the long-deferred liberal agenda, but he neither received a broad mandate from the public nor the needed large congressional majorities.
The Democrats fell several votes short of the 60-vote filibuster-proof Senate that they were seeking and also failed to get rid of a key Senate target: Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Salon editor Joan Walsh highlights the hypocrisy of all this:
Not only did [Obama] win a bigger victory margin than any Democrat since [Lyndon B.] Johnson, it was a bigger margin than that of first-term Ronald Reagan, and either-term George W. Bush. Yet those conservative Republicans wasted no time claiming a mandate. Obama, like Reagan, saw his presidential win accompanied by big Democratic victories in the House and Senate. I don’t remember pundits warning Reagan and his GOP majority to reach out to Democrats. ... Even today, though, I never hear anyone say: Reagan really should have governed from the center.My suspicion is that, regardless of what mandate voters have or have not given him, Obama understands that he cannot ram everything he and his supporters want through Congress. Bush has does his best to bankrupt the country, so there are financial considerations to be made in prioritizing policy changes. And there will be Republican’ts--and likely some conservative Democrats, as well--who won’t be easily sold on all of Obama’s legislative priorities. Furthermore, he can draw lessons from the prior stumbles of Bill Clinton, who probably reached too far in trying to pass an economic overhaul and allow gays and lesbians into the military within his first two years in the Oval Office. (The latter effort resulted in the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.)
So why are pundits saying that about Obama?
One reason is, even if you can get agreement on Obama’s having a mandate, there’s no consensus on what it means. Given that he ran and won against a guy who labeled him a radical Marxist socialist, I could argue that his mandate is quite far to the left. I don’t think that’s true. I think it is fair to say, given the role the economy played in this election, that Obama has a mandate for a new dynamism on the economy, with a strong government role on the side of fairness, equity and creating wealth for many, not just a few.
But this is where the new president’s skills at persuasion and his manifest popularity with voters will come in handy. After four years adrift in Bush’s America, millions of voters are waiting for somebody knowledgeable to tell them what they can do to help set the country back on course. Obama needs to enlist the public in his programs as no president has done since Franklin D. Roosevelt. And Obama is particularly good at explaining even complicated things, having taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School for a dozen years. He needs to solicit the best advice from the people in his administration, and then sell their recommendations on the street.
By the standards of Reagan and Bush, Barack Obama probably has a governing mandate. What’s more important, though, is that Americans want him to lead them out of the economic, social, and foreign-policy morasses into which his predecessor led the nation. That’s as strong a mandate as any other.
MY, HOW THINGS HAVE CHANGED: New York Times columnist Paul Krugman posts in his blog a map showing the U.S. counties that became more Democratic this year.
UPDATE: So much for that bellwether. For only the second time since 1904, Missouri has failed to throw its support behind the next U.S. president. It was announced today that John McCain won the Show Me State by fewer than 6,000 votes. The last time Missourians sided with the loser in a presidential contest was in 1956, when they backed Illinois Democrat Adlai Stevenson over incumbent Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
READ MORE: “What Does Obama’s Victory Mean?,” by Thomas Schaller (Salon); “After Four Decades, Finally, the Beginning of the End,” by Mark Weisbrot (TruthOut); “Closing the ‘God Gap,’” by Steve Benen (The Washington Monthly); “Bush’s Memoir: Publishers Say No Thanks,” by Hillel Italie (AP); “The Klan Chimes In on Obama,” by Larry Rohter (The New York Times); “What’s Next?,” by Richard Schiff (The Huffington Post).