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“Not Even Close”: Obama’s Got A Bigger Mandate Than The GOP, And A Bully Pulpit

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

November 14, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Fizzling Of A Divine Plan”: Is The Religious Right In Trouble?

If we’re going to count the losers of the 2012 election, the religious right has to be high on the list. Its members said they would turn out in extraordinary numbers to fight that infidel in the White House, but Ralph Reed’s turnout push fizzled. Gay marriage is now legal in three more states than it was on November 5, with more sure to come. In response, some on the religious right are wondering whether this politics thing just isn’t working out for them. It isn’t that they failed to get their message out, said influential religious-right quote machine Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, “it’s that the entire moral landscape has changed. … An increasingly secularized America understands our positions and has rejected them.”

We’ve heard this kind of thing before, and Ed Kilgore warns that the religious right’s stranglehold on the Republican Party hasn’t lessened at all:

Lest we forget, every single Republican candidate for president in 2012 toed the Christian Right line in every major detail. The second-place finisher in the nomination fight, Rick Santorum, was himself a Christian Right Culture Warrior of the most impeccable purity, willing to openly smite not just Secularists but Liberal Protestants and Catholics as infidels and instruments of Satan. The old chestnut of a “struggle for the soul” of the GOP between economic and cultural conservatives turned out to be as empty as ever, as the former embraced an aggressive campaign against legalized abortion and for “religious liberty” even as the latter continued to baptize laissez-faire capitalism as part of the Divine Plan.

Ed also notes that the potential 2016 GOP contenders all have impeccable religious-right credentials as well. All of that’s true, but as a faction they still have an uncertain future. Ed’s last point about the deal between economic and cultural conservatives—the former pretend they care deeply about abortion and oppose gay rights, while the latter proclaim that if Jesus came back tomorrow his highest priority would be cutting the capital gains tax—is right, in that it isn’t so much a “struggle” as a negotiated arrangement. But in the last few years, culture has been pushed further and further into the background. If you added up all the time Mitt Romney spent talking about the business and the wonder of markets and compared it to the time he spent talking about abortion and same-sex marriage, the ratio would probably be ten to one or more. The Tea Party may have been made up in large part of cultural conservatives, but they swore up and down that all they cared about was their economic agenda. Republicans are as engaged as ever in a culture war, but the primary enemy in that war isn’t godless secularists, it’s government-loving socialists.

There’s no question that the GOP can’t abandon the religious right. But what it may do is confine its pandering to as brief a period during the primaries as possible. Let’s remember that though Rick Santorum may have finished second to Romney, he scared the living daylights out of the Republican establishment, precisely because his message was so retrograde and filled with hostility.

The problem will only get worse for the religious right. There’s an inexorable demographic evolution going on, one in which older, more culturally conservative people are dying off as younger, more culturally liberal people become adults and play a larger political role. How will they handle the shrinking of their appeal? One answer is for the religious right to undergo its own evolution. They’ve done it in the past, and there’s no reason they can’t do it in the future. The Southern Baptist Convention, which in the past had supported slavery and then segregation, recently elected its first black president. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if 20 or 30 years from now, nearly all the institutions we now consider part of the religious right will have changed their position on gay people. They won’t have to change on abortion—the country looks like it will remain split on that issue for the foreseeable future—but they may change on any number of other issues.

On the other hand, they may just hunker down; as Ed says, these folks love being able to consider themselves martyrs, surrounded by hostile forces and bravely standing up for God. But what happens when, a few elections from now, some incredibly charismatic Republican comes along and says he supports gay marriage and somehow manages to win, proving that maybe Republicans don’t need them? Then they’ll be in real trouble.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, November 14, 2012

November 14, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“That’s Just How Those People Are”: Land Of The “Free Stuff,” Home Of The Brave

If you want to explain why your party lost a presidential election, there are a number of places to look. You can blame your candidate and his campaign (which usually means, “If only they had listened to me!”). You can blame your party and ask if it should examine its ideology or its rhetoric. You can blame the media. Or you can blame the voters. As the old political saw says, “The people have spoken—the bastards.” And that is what one conservative after another has been saying over the last week.

They aren’t saying that the voters are uninformed, or that they allowed themselves to be duped. Instead, Barack Obama’s re-election is said to be a moral failing on the part of the American public. They got what they wanted, conservatives are saying. And what was it they wanted? Universal health coverage, higher taxes on the wealthy, strong environmental regulations, legal abortion? Nope. They wanted free stuff. Because that’s just how those people are.

This was perhaps articulated most vividly by Bill O’Reilly, who on election night lamented the fact that “the white establishment is no longer the majority” and said, “It’s not a traditional America anymore, and there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama.”

It didn’t start on election day; this is a tune that Republicans have been playing for a couple of years now, and nearly everyone, from media figures to members of Congress to their presidential nominee himself, joined in with increasing frequency over the last few months. “You either get free stuff or you get freedom. You cannot have both,” said Sarah Palin back in September. “Offering Americans a check is a more fruitful political strategy than offering them the opportunity to take control of and responsibility for their own lives,” wrote National Review‘s Kevin Williamson after the election. “You have two generations now who believe that the government owes them something,” said conservative columnist Cal Thomas. “If you’re looking for free stuff you don’t have to pay for, vote for the other guy,” said Mitt Romney during the campaign. And of course, his infamous 47 percent video was all about those people who think they are “entitled” to government benefits.

The truth, of course, is that every single person in America gets benefits from the U.S. government. We get defended from invasion, we get roads to drive on, we get reasonably clean air to breathe, we get parks and schools and so much else. But that’s not the “free stuff” conservatives are talking about. They’re talking about the government giving you something directly as an individual, like money. But there’s a problem here too: Lots and lots of Americans, including most of those whom Republicans deem morally worthy, get plenty of stuff from the government. I’m not even talking about bank bailouts, or corporations like General Electric rewriting the tax code so they pay nothing. I’m talking about individual people, the kind of people Republicans like, getting direct government aid.

There is nothing–nothing–that makes, say, Medicare superior to unemployment benefits, even though as far as conservatives are concerned, only receiving the latter makes you a “taker.” If you’re unemployed, you paid taxes, and now the government is helping you in your time of need. There is nothing that makes the mortgage interest deduction morally superior to food stamps, even though conservatives like one but not the other. The government has decided, wisely or not, that it wants to promote home ownership, so it pays for part of millions of homeowners’ mortgage interest. The government has also decided that it’s bad for our society if people starve, so if your income falls below the level where it will be difficult to afford food and also pay for the other necessities of life, it give you some help in buying food.

So what is it that, in conservatives’ minds, distinguishes the “makers” from the “takers,” particularly when, as political scientists Suzanne Mettler and John Sides report, “97 percent of Republicans and 98 percent of Democrats report that they have used at least one government social policy”? Think hard, and it’ll come to you.

Even if Mitt Romney had not chosen Ayn Rand acolyte Paul Ryan to be his running mate, this election would still have seen the triumph of a Randian attitude on the right, in which every policy and everyone they don’t like is attacked as a despicable parasite sucking off the labors of their economic betters. We had Romney’s absurdly mendacious welfare ad (“You wouldn’t have to work … they just send you your welfare check”). We had Newt Gingrich proclaiming that he’d love to explain to the NAACP “why the African American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.” We had the attack on Sandra Fluke for allegedly wanting “free contraception,” or even asking for taxpayers to pay for it (“Ms. Fluke wants us to pick up her lifestyle expenses!” said Bill O’Reilly), when what she advocated was that the insurance coverage that women themselves pay for should cover contraception. We had conservatives fascinated by the idea that poor voters were being given free “Obama phones” (don’t ask). To the right, if you were voting for Obama it could only be because you wanted to get something from the government you didn’t deserve.

But if you want to find a real sense of entitlement, the place to look is among the country’s wealthy, the people who turned over hundreds of millions of dollars to Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie in their failed attempt to drive Barack Obama from office. They may not have been able to propel one of their own to the White House, but despite all their resentment and complaining things have never been better for the country’s economic Übermenschen. Not only do they hold more of the nation’s wealth than at any time since the Gilded Age, the privileges of that wealth have never been greater. Their taxes have never been lower. The entire world offers special concierge services to shield them from the indignities and inconveniences of everyday life. And now, they have new freedoms in the political realm as well; where they might have had to hold their tongues in the past, thanks to Citizens United they are now free to strong-arm their employees to vote in the right way, complete with threats of layoffs should the voters be so vulgar as to elect a Democratic president.

Perhaps by the time 2016 arrives, the Republican party will find a message that resonates with voters more effectively than “You people make me sick.” For now, though, that’s what they’re sticking with.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, November 12, 2012

November 14, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


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