Mandate Schmandate?
November 8th, 2012

Everyone’s talking about the mandate* and it makes me cringe a little bit.

While I’m not afraid of expressing a controversial opinion on this blog, I typically try to avoid Red vs. Blue politics here.  I will say today, though, (not that it will surprise many of you) that I’m pleased with the election results and optimistic about what the next four years will hold for our country.  Nevertheless, I really don’t like all this talk of a mandate.

The premise, of course, is that when a candidate wins by some margin wider than a hairline fracture he or she is entitled to make sweeping changes rather than ”tinkering around at the edges,” as GAP put it to me last night.  My initial response to that was that anyone who is elected President of the United States had better be doing more than tinkering around at the edges.  Yet I still struggle with the mandate.

My objection is that it’s arrogant – that it implies some sort of carte blanche permission to ignore the other side and use your victory to push and shove whatever legislation you want into reality.  And I don’t believe that’s any way to lead a nation where very nearly half of the voting public cast their ballot for the other guy.  For the record, I don’t think President Obama operates this way.  Rather, it is within the media punditry that it keeps popping up.  This is still relevant, though, because we hear from media personalities far more than we hear from the president (he’s a bit on the busy side), so their nonstop yammering has a significant influence on how he is perceived.

My bristling at the mandate was briefly quelled by this post at The New Republic which eloquently addresses the broader impact of President Obama’s re-election and the message it sends about what kind of America we want to be in the future.  Reading it I nodded at the discussion of the “referendum on liberalism” and agree that if the nation voted against that referendum then those votes should mean something.  So it isn’t so much the behavior underneath a supposed mandate that bothers me as it is the rhetoric piled on top of it.

As it turns out, I’m apparently in good company.  Yesterday Ezra Klein tweeted “There’s no such thing as mandate. There’s only what you can get done with the Congress the Voters have [given] you.”  And this morning on Morning Joe David Axelrod said of the mandate, “That’s a foolish word and it’s generally untrue.” **  Thanks for having my back, guys!

So why-oh-why, then, must people parade about speaking as though Democrats have been given a permission slip to bully the right into submission?  The Republican party dug its heels in with far-right candidates in a number of races (Akin, Mourdock, etc.) and lost.  I don’t see how rubbing their faces in it with talk of a mandate is going to make anything better.  These are polarizing times and if we’re going to get anything worthwhile done in the next four years it’s going to be because both sides were willing to cede some ground for the common good.  Given the losses the Republicans suffered in this election they may have to cede more ground than their Democratic counterparts, but it’s still a two-way street.

I’m glad the president won himself a second term.  I’m excited to see what he does with it.  I think he is an accomplished and diplomatic negotiator.  I just wish the media would quit obfuscating that fact with all of this hubbub about a mandate.

*Mandate mentions can be found here, here, here, and many other places.

**See the 3:35 mark for the beginning of this discussion.

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