Another Useless Political Concept: Mandates

I was flipping channels on Monday and the discussion on both MSNBC and Fox News was over the question of whether President Obama has a “mandate” to do something — raise taxes on the wealthy, pass his budget plan, etc — as a result of the 2004 election. Naturally, Democrats think he does and Republicans think he doesn’t. Both are full of shit.

This is a term and a concept that is always used in an incoherent and hypocritical way by partisans of both parties. When their candidate wins, no matter how narrowly, they have a “mandate” to pass every single policy they advocated during the election because the voters picked him specifically to get that policy passed, or at least with the full knowledge that they would pass such a policy. And when the other side wins, it’s simply laughable that they could possibly have such a mandate.

And both sides can manipulate the facts to fit whichever narrative they want to promote depending on the outcome of the election. Democrats are now saying that Obama has a “mandate” to raise taxes on the wealthy because he won 332 electoral votes, but Republicans are arguing that the same voters who reelected Obama also voted to keep the House in Republican hands, which gives them the mandate to prevent Obama from doing so. But if the parties were reversed, their positions would be too.

In 2004, George W. Bush won the election by carrying 31 states (Obama carried 26) and voters gave Republicans control of both the House and Senate. He immediately claimed to have a “mandate” and said that he had “earned political capital” that he intended to use. Liberals mocked that claim and those who repeated it. Now it’s the exact opposite — of course Obama has a mandate and only those ridiculous Republicans would say otherwise.

As I said, this is all bullshit, nothing but pundits and politicians playing their assigned roles in a “debate” that happens after every election. If a policy should be passed, it should be passed on the grounds that it is good for the country, not in response to some mythical and undefined “mandate” from voters.

19 comments on this post.
  1. fifthdentist:

    You’ve got it all wrong, Ed.
    When Bush said he had a “mandate,” he meant that Jeff Gannon was waiting for him in the Lincoln bedroom.

  2. pacal:

    Ed you mean 2012 not 2004 I assume.

  3. democommie:

    Ed:

    Are you outtayermind?!

    Without they don’t got no “mandates” how are the Czars gonna have any power to effectuate optimizational operational inertiatude?

  4. Buzz Saw:

    Well, I know one pundit who at least expressed his reasoning before using the term “mandate.” His claim was that Obama got more of the popular vote and more of the electoral vote than Bush did in ’04. If Bush had a mandate, then so must Obama.
    On another note, we know Dems won the popular vote for House and that redistricting definitely played a part (as per a post of yours from a few days ago) in helping the Republicans keep the House.

  5. dmcclean:

    Wow, a Jeff Gannon/James Guckert reference. That’s not something you see every day. One of the weirdest stories to ever come out of Washington, and that’s saying something.

  6. Bronze Dog:

    When a candidate wins 75%+ of the popular vote, I might entertain the notion that there’s a real mandate.

  7. rork:

    Thankyou for that Ed, it has been irritating me. It was ridiculous in 2004, and it’s ridiculous now. Fact is that on allot of issues, there’s no giant majority seeing it one way. Maybe I think the other 50% (or 45%) are contemptible, but the job is to change their minds. Hollering mandate doesn’t help with that.

  8. baal:

    “a “mandate” to pass every single policy they advocated during the election”

    And a host of policies that they did not advocate during the election. 2010 the (R)FEDGOV House mantra was Jobs, Jobs and Jobs. They instead passed one right wing social policy bill after another.

  9. Dr X:

    Mandates are not just a political useless concept.

  10. Randomfactor:

    dmcclean, I’m just waiting for Gannon/Guckert to show up in the web of relationships for the Petraeus literal clusterfuck.

    And speaking of fucking yourself out of a good thing:

    http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/11/14/1188771/exclusive-karl-roves-crossroads-gps-never-filed-legally-required-registration/

  11. laurentweppe:

    Democrats are now saying that Obama has a “mandate” to raise taxes on the wealthy because he won 332 electoral votes, but Republicans are arguing that the same voters who reelected Obama also voted to keep the House in Republican hands

    Beeeeeeeeep
    Wrong answer: democrats won the house popular vote, and republicans cheated their way toward keeping their majority in seats

  12. anandine:

    I’ll agree that with that big a win, GW had a mandate to do the things he campaigned on, but then he claimed the mandate was to kill social security.

  13. tfkreference:

    As I heard someone say (I wish I could give due credit), Bush used up his political capital just by making that statement.

  14. kreativekaos:

    I think the overblown nature of the use of the word ‘mandate’ to rhetorically frame a political win–however narrow or unclear– basically got its momentum from the eighties during Reagan’s back-to-back wins, and was probably reinforced in 1996 with the Republican wins in Congress (along with Gingrich’s grandstanding his ‘Contract with America’.

  15. kreativekaos:

    (pascal@2: Yes, that’s what I thought.. Ed meant 2012)

  16. Tobinius:

    Since less than half the population even bothered to vote (and therefore the whole winning the popular vote is really a nonsensical term), how can anyone claim to have a “mandate”? – unless, as noted above, you take the word literally.

  17. democommie:

    “I’ll agree that with that big a win, GW had a mandate to do the things he campaigned on, but then he claimed the mandate was to kill social security.”

    Well, that and uncounted thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis.

  18. gingerbaker:

    Right. So the public should have no expectation that what a candidate campaigned on is what they elected him to do? Is that what you are saying, Ed?

    Why have elections if that is the case? Politicians should be appointed aristocrats who know best what is good for the country, and the public gets some say in public affairs, but only if, say, 75% of them agree by independent poll.

    Hmmmm… not sure if that would not be infinitely better than the system we currently use.

  19. Uncle Glenny:

    Well, that and uncounted thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis.

    That he did, but I think you meant Afghans. Afghani is the currency.

    /pedant

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