The mandate delusion, and Atlas begins to shrug

Ruth Marcus:
The biggest mistake President Obama could make now is to overinterpret the election results.

One of the dumbest things politicians do in the aftermath of elections is to claim a mandate. Even dumber is when they actually believe it. And reelected presidents are especially susceptible to the mandate delusion. 
First, look beneath the president’s impressive electoral college numbers. America remains a closely divided country. Flip about 155,000 votes in just four states — Ohio, Florida, Virginia and New Hampshire — and you end up planning a Romney inaugural. The freakish closeness of Florida 2000 obscures the minuscule percentage of the vote that those switches would entail: little more than one-tenth of 1 percent of the national vote. 
Looked at another way, three of the last four presidential elections have featured a difference of fewer than 3 percentage points in the popular vote. Not since the 1880s has the country had a string of such close races. 
A further caution: It’s dangerous to confuse electoral victory with policy endorsement. Voters cast their ballots for an array of reasons — they didn’t think that Romney understood the problems of people like them; they perceived that the economy was improving and gave Obama credit for it; they were reassured by Obama’s response to Hurricane Sandy; they hated Romney’s car elevator. 
True, exit polls showed 63 percent of voters saying that taxes shouldn’t be raised to help reduce the budget deficit; in answer to a separate question, 47 percent said that taxes should go up only on the wealthy, and 13 percent said that they should be increased for all. 
But there is a difference between being able to point to support for your policy and arguing that the election settles the question. It didn’t — any more than, as House Speaker John Boehner claimed, the reelection of a Republican House majority demonstrated there is “no mandate for raising tax rates.”
I think Boehner's claim was defensive after the other bogus claims were out there.  Keep in mind that Marcus is a liberal who is questioning all claims to a mandate.  She correctly notes that it will still come down to a matter of persuasion.  That has been a real weakness for Obama, and on this subject his arguments still make no sense to conservatives who don't believe that punishing the rich will produce enough revenue to make a difference in the debt and they do believe that it will hurt job creation.

Since the election employers have been cutting jobs at a pace that suggest many were waiting for the results of the election.  They were apparently hoping for the repeal of Obamacare which would have saved them enough money to keep the employees.  Now they can ad tax increases as another reason to reduce employees.  Democrats have argued that theincreases would make no difference but we can already see Atlas shrugging.


  1. In politics, much is genuinely a matter of viewpoint. There are two or more paths which can be taken with little consequence. The problem is there are also things which have real limits. The biggest election mandate does not allow you to ignore Newton's Law of Gravity. We are faced with people who firmly believe that reality is what they say it is. In this case, there really isn't any option to refusing to go along with what is a disastrous ideology.


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