Does he or doesn’t he? Does President Obama have a mandate from the voters heading into his second term or not? That question has been argued back and forth for a week now, and will continue to be sparred over for months to come. But with most of the votes counted in the country, we can say this with some certainty: He’s got more of a mandate than do House Republicans.
Not surprisingly, the GOP and its allies have taken a strong stand against any Obama mandate. Per Politico, here’s Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, this year’s losing vice presidential nominee:
When asked if Obama had a mandate on taxes, Romney’s running mate told ABC News: “I don’t think so, because they also re-elected the House Republicans. So whether people intended or not, we’ve got divided government.”
He continued: “This is a very close election, and unfortunately divided government didn’t work very well the last two years. We’re going to have to make sure it works in the next two years.”
Let’s unpack that. First off, Ryan undercuts his own point with the caveat about “whether people intended or not.” It’s hard to claim a countermandate while admitting that it may be an unintentional one. And in fact if you look at the vote totals, it’s hard to claim a countermandate at all, given that more people voted for House Democratic candidates than voted for Republicans. According to a running tally compiled by the Rothenberg Report’s House editor, David Wasserman, House Democratic candidates got 56.3 million votes last week, while House GOP-ers got only 56.1 million. Republicans were saved by the fact that the last round of redistricting gave them a structural advantage in terms of the congressional map. Democratic voters tend to be concentrated, especially in cities, so they got more votes in fewer districts.
Ryan goes on to assert that, “this is a very close election.” But is it really? I think Charlie Cook has it right here:
It’s certainly true that 51 percent (rounding up from 50.5) to 48 percent is close, but since the end of World War II, five elections have been closer. Mitt Romney won only two more states (Indiana and North Carolina) than John McCain did, and even if he had won Florida, the GOP nominee would still have needed to win Ohio, Virginia, and either Colorado or Iowa, based on the sequence of the election margins.
The danger for Republicans clinging to that solace is that it sidesteps the inconvenient truth that they have now lost the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections, from 1992 on. For the GOP, this was more than one bad night.
And while we’re on the topic of presidential vote totals, according to Wasserman’s figures, Obama won 62.9 million votes. So if the House GOP wants to compare mandate size, 6.8 million more people voted for Obama and his clearly stated policy of raising taxes on the wealthy than voted for House Republicans.
Look, I think that talk of mandates is overblown and anachronistic. If Obama had won, say, 350 electoral votes and close to 54 percent of the vote would Republicans concede that he had a mandate and cooperate in policymaking? That’s what he got four years ago and all the GOP gave him was gridlock, noncooperation, and suggestions of political illegitimacy. And while we’re recalling recent history, recall that when George W. Bush won re-election eight years ago with a smaller percentage of the vote, the Wall Street Journal called it a “decisive mandate.”
Meanwhile Obama plans to hit the hustings to gin up support for his position in the upcoming battle over the wildly misnamed “fiscal cliff.” We’ll see how well that turns out—the power of the president in situations like this is often overstated—but mandate or no, he indisputably has the “bully pulpit.”
By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, November 14, 2012
What Barack Obama tried to tell America, in the hour of his remarkable victory, is that the nation’s future won on Election Day. Seeking to inspire and to heal, the re-elected president offered an open hand to partisan opponents in the style that has always defined him.
“Tonight,” he said, “despite all the hardship we’ve been through, despite all the frustrations of Washington, I’ve never been more hopeful about our future.”
In the days ahead there will be time to absorb the magnitude of this moment -– achieved under the cloud of persistent unemployment and a multibillion-dollar campaign of calumny — but the president clearly knows that he returns to the White House with a renewed mandate. Against great odds, he won nearly all the same states that elected him in 2008 and won the popular vote despite an enormous, angry backlash in the old Confederacy.
Victory conferred on him the authority to speak of the days and years ahead whose agenda he will shape, not alone, but as a proven leader who knows that “we rise or fall together as one nation and one people.” He spoke of a future where the children of immigrants can dream of becoming doctors or diplomats, and the children of workers can dream of becoming president; a future not threatened by excessive debt, worsening inequality, and climate change.
It is an inclusive vision of a nation where politics can be big, not small, as he said, because the goals of public life are great for everyone – and where the best is still ahead because the adversity, prejudices, and illusions of the past are receding.
“That’s the future we share,” he said. “That’s where we need to go… Our economy is recovering, a decade of war is ending, a long campaign is now over.”
How can he “seize that future,” as he urged us all to do? The conventional wisdom of Washington punditry is already telling the president that he must “work across the aisle” with the Republicans, who will still control the House in January. But while he acknowledged the necessity to reach out to his opponents — and alluded to his long-held bipartisan spirit — he hinted that he has learned something else during his contentious first term and this hard, grinding campaign.
If he hopes to leave a legacy of accomplishment in his second term, he cannot count on the cooperation of the right-wing rump in Congress. If he wants to tax the wealthy, reject austerity, implement Obamacare, and begin to cope with global warming, he will have to rely upon on the people who entrusted him with their votes, their energy, their hope.
“The role of citizen in our democracy does not end with your vote,” he said. “America is about what can be done by us, together.” Mobilizing the public is not only the way to win elections, but the way to win an agenda for the future.
By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, November 7, 2012
George Shultz once offered advice to Cabinet secretaries seeking to make a difference, advice that applies equally well to presidents. It’s easy to be consumed by your in box in these big jobs, Shultz explained. The flow of “incoming” could keep anyone fully occupied from the moment they were sworn in to the day they left office. The key to leaving your mark is to be sure you work on priorities you select and put into other people’s in-boxes. Don’t just work off your own.
This sound counsel captures why Barack Obama’s devotion to major health reform was so important — and why the risks he took to pursue that course must make his vindication Tuesday night especially sweet.
Obama didn’t “have” to do health reform. It wasn’t in his in box. A historic economic collapse was. He could have devoted himself exclusively to economic crisis management. (Though even if he’d done that, it’s not clear the recovery would be further along. After all, the Republicans blocked the sensible infrastructure investments in his Jobs Act a year ago that would have left 1 million more Americans working today — and unemployment at 7.2 percent, not 7.9 percent).
But Obama took the longer view. He knew U.S. health care was a scandal, with outsize costs and 50 million people uninsured. Now, thanks to the president’s reelection and the certainty that the law will be phased in by 2014, everything will change.
For the first time, Americans will have guaranteed access to coverage at group rates outside the employment setting. This fact got zero discussion in the campaign, but it’s impossible to overstate its significance. We’re the only wealthy nation where such access isn’t the case today. It’s been bad for people and disastrous for entrepreneurship (because budding entrepreneurs routinely stay in jobs they dislike in order to keep health coverage if there’s illness in their family).
The status quo has been bad for business, which carries the cost of health care on its payrolls. It’s also been bad for workers, because the cash devoured by employer-paid health premiums would otherwise be available for higher wages.
With Obama’s reelection, the great hope now is that in the years ahead, as politicians and business leaders in both parties realize that the new insurance exchanges are a safe and sensible way for folks to get coverage, more Americans will be allowed to migrate to the exchanges, with sliding-scale subsidies for those who need help to buy decent policies.
Everyone needs to realize that this development would be terrific — good for people, good for business, good for the economy. Republicans have talked inanely about people at risk of being “dumped” into the new exchanges, when in fact private plans will be offered exactly like those employers have offered, except that people will have many more choices.
Smart employers see this trend coming and know it makes sense. When I spoke to an audience of human-resource executives not long after Obamacare passed, I polled the audience on what it expected. Today about 20 million people get coverage outside the job setting (not counting folks on Medicare and Medicaid). What would that number be in a decade, I asked. 20 million? 40 million? Or 100 million? Most said 100 million — which would obviously represent a dramatic shift in so short a time. It may be a threat to the benefits empires these folks run for their companies, but it represents huge progress for the country.
This progress will have been possible only because President Obama took a bigger view and then persisted. He wasn’t going to make his entire presidency about his in box — which meant cleaning up George W. Bush’s mess. Instead, he fought for major changes that mattered for the long term. He paid a big price for this choice. Not only did he face the GOP’s fury but, because his team didn’t design health reform to phase in fully until 2014, voters had to go through this election without any sense of the security Obamacare will bring.
Republicans who grasped the stakes opposed it so fiercely because they knew that if Obamacare wasn’t killed in its cradle, it would eventually be popular and deepen the public’s attachment to the party that authored it (this same sentiment accounted for the violent opposition to Clintoncare in the 1990s).
Well, these GOP fears were well-founded. By 2016, Obamacare will be immensely popular. Mark my words.
There are surely 100 reasons why reelection must be satisfying to the president. But one of the biggest has to be the vindication of his choice to go big on health care. Long after the damage of the burst financial and real estate bubbles is healed, Obamacare will be his legacy. It will have improved our society and laid the groundwork for greater economic security in an era in which Americans will increasingly be buffeted by global economic forces beyond their control.
The law is hardly perfect. Twenty million to 30 million Americans will still lack coverage even after it is implemented. Some of its regulations amount to micromanagement (such as rules requiring insurers to spend 80 percent of premiums on health care). The decision to finance the bill partly with fees on employers who don’t offer coverage created needless business opposition and may lead some to cut workers’ hours to stay below the threshold that triggers such fees.
But these things can easily be fixed. The big point remains: By instinctively heeding Shultz’s advice and keeping his eye on America’s unfinished agenda even as economic storms raged around him, Obama is now certain to leave America a more decent society in ways that business will come to recognize are good for the economy as well. (The fact that Mitt Romney’s health reform inspired its design gives the achievement a kind of tacit bipartisan poetry as well.)
Not bad for a night’s work. All we need now is filibuster reform, and we might really be on to something.
By: Matt Miller, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 7, 2012
“The Only Mandate That Matters”: Getting Re-Elected, As Republican Behavior Will Be The Same Either Way
On Wednesday, we’ll begin talking about whether whoever gets elected has a “mandate.” We’ll talk about it even more if Barack Obama is re-elected, because when a new president takes office we accept that he’ll be doing all kinds of new things, changing course on almost every policy, replacing all the members of the other party who populate the executive branch with members of his own party, etc. With a re-elected president, on the other hand, there’s a real question about where he goes from here and how much he can try to accomplish. There’s a fundamental problem with the mandate idea, however, that makes it almost meaningless in today’s Washington.
The mandate notion assumes that the larger the president’s margin of victory, the greater the proportion of the public has signed on to his policy agenda. That’s not completely unreasonable, though in practice most voters have only the vaguest notion of what the person they’re voting for wants to do. But the idea of the mandate is about Congress more than anything else. There’s a chain of responsibility: The public gives the president its nod; he puts his agenda forth in the form of executive actions, appointments, and legislation; and Congress approves those actions because the public has said with its presidential vote that it wants them. If Congress stands in the way of a president who won a mandate, then the public will rise up and punish them, while if they stand in the way of a president who didn’t win as much of a mandate (because he won without a popular vote majority, for instance), then the public will approve.
You can see the problem in this logic. For this chain to operate, members of Congress have to be either temperamentally inclined to go along with whatever they perceive as the broad public will, or forced to do so because they fear the political consequences. But if Obama wins and is left with a Republican House, he’ll be facing members of Congress who don’t really care what the public thinks or whom it allegedly gave a mandate to.
Although a few of the nuttiest Tea Partiers may lose their seats on Tuesday, we’re going to be looking at a Republican caucus pretty much the same as it is now. The two most important things to know about them are that 1) they are true believers, and 2) they’re mostly elected in safe conservative districts, so they don’t fear retribution at the polls for being obstructionist.
When I say they’re true believers, I mean not only that they have their own extremely conservative agenda, but also that many of them feel that Obama is an illegitimate president whose agenda will send America tumbling toward a nightmarish socialist dystopia. They see implacable opposition to anything and everything Obama wants to do as a moral obligation. To them, it matters not a whit whether he wins by one vote or by 20 million votes. Their behavior will be the same either way.
That isn’t to say there aren’t also people within the Republican party in general and in the House in particular who have a firmer grip on reality. Speaker John Boehner is one of them; he knows that their reputation as mindless obstructionists has done his party real harm, and if he had the power to dictate his caucus’ actions he would probably have them dial the opposition back a bit and find ways to look more cooperative without giving away too much. But he doesn’t have that power. Every time he needs to get their votes on something important it’s a struggle. Many House Republicans would be happy to see him go. His second-in-command, Eric Cantor, is just waiting for the right opportunity to plunge a knife in Boehner’s back and take his job.
So I can guarantee you that no matter what the specific margin is, if Obama wins on Tuesday, Republicans will act as though he has no mandate. They’ll also be saying so at every opportunity, and they may be helped by some in the media; just look at this story from Politico, which says explicitly that even if Obama wins a majority of Americans’ votes, he won’t have a mandate because not enough of those Americans will be white.
The best thing for Obama to do—which I suspect he would do regardless—is to find whatever creative ways are necessary to work around the House and accomplish all the policy goals he can. While in the past some presidents have been criticized for acting as though they have a mandate they didn’t earn (Democrats said this about George W. Bush after the 2000 election), the public only cares about whether your policies are good or bad. No voter is going to say, “I’m glad that now I can get insurance despite being a cancer survivor, but I’m just not sure whether Obama exceeded his mandate by making it so I can do that.” Getting re-elected is all the mandate he needs.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, November 5, 2012
“You Know Me, You Know What I Believe”: Barack Obama Really Is The Man You Have Always Believed Him To Be
The opportunity to address the Penn community about the presidential election is a privilege, for the differences between the candidates affect us directly. President Obama has doubled the Pell Grant program that helps pay for college. Mr. Romney would roll that program back. The president’s health care law empowers young adults to stay on their parents’ coverage until age 26. Mr. Romney would eliminate that right. President Obama is fighting to protect women’s control over their own bodies, and he is the greatest champion for LGBT equality in the history of the American presidency. Mr. Romney has proclaimed his desire to sign legislation to outlaw all abortion, impede women’s access to affordable contraception and amend the Constitution to turn same-sex couples into second-class citizens. Such differences could determine any person’s vote.
Still, the greatest value I can add is not an exegesis of the issues, but an account of the president in more personal terms. I have not served in this administration, but I got to know Barack Obama on the 2008 campaign, and I have worked with his team in the White House. I know about this president’s character.
President Obama is driven by a core belief that government can play a role in improving people’s lives and protecting human dignity. I have experienced the force of those values firsthand.
I stood in the West Wing on the weekend before the House of Representatives’ historic vote on the Affordable Care Act — the fulfillment of a decades-long promise to make decent health care a right in this country, not a privilege. I saw the look of excitement on the faces of administration officials as they approached the end of the long, imperfect road that would make possible this profound act of humanity.
I sat in the audience as President Obama signed the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, ending over two centuries of anti-gay discrimination in the military and bringing America a step closer to the promise of equal citizenship. I shared an embrace with the president in celebration of one of his proudest accomplishments, and I walked the halls of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the main office space of the White House, where spontaneous cheers had echoed through the Second Empire structure when the president proclaimed, “This is done.”
I have experienced this administration’s determination to preserve the hopes and dreams of women, whose right to full equality is again threatened by ideologues who would control their bodies, limit their choices and deny them equal pay. And the day President Obama announced his support for marriage equality, I was in the White House to witness the tearful eyes of his LGBT staff and the beaming pride of his senior advisors as they once again saw their President make history.
I do not know what values drive Mitt Romney. The answer to that question seems to change with each audience he addresses and every office he seeks.
I do know President Obama. As you enter the voting booth, remember this: Barack Obama really is the man you have always believed him to be. Through one of the most challenging terms in the modern history of the American presidency, Mr. Obama has saved our economy, improved our laws and elevated our voices. I will cast my vote proudly for the president, with excitement for the four years ahead.
By: Tobias Wolff, The New Civil Rights Movement, November 5, 2012