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No Mandate from Here

The narrow victory by Republicans.

by Barnabas
November 13, 2002

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No Mandate from Here_Barnabas-The narrow victory by Republicans.
The trouble is, says Boston sage and former Kennedy staffer David Burke, that 14 months after 9/11, Americans are still scared stiff. —Mary McGrory, November 7

The Republicans are claiming they have made history by attaining a razor-thin majority in the Senate and making marginal gains in the House, but that remains to be seen. I find David Burke’s analysis more believable. While fear is not the only reason the Republicans prevailed, it may have been the decisive one.

They didn’t make history. People who assume they have are more likely to be the victims of history rather than its makers.

The language of history and mandate is journalistic puffery. For a mandate, you need a considered response, not an emotional reaction; a scared-stiff electorate is a fickle support base for any political purpose, much less for total war.
Second to fear in driving the election was local interest and prejudice. This election wasn’t a national decision but several hundred local ones, with several thousand motivations at work.. Most of them have nothing to do with Saddam Hussein, except for the party label worn by the President. This election wasn’t nearly as much about him as he likes to think and wants us to think.

Third, I live in a big chunk of the rural Midwest where flags fly all over the place, and Memorial Day is a major event; yet our regional Congressmen are Democrats, our Senators are Democrats, our brand-new Governor is a Democrat. There is definitely no mandate from this corner.

In my own memory, I think of how Lyndon Johnson had a majority in Congress during the early years of Viet Nam, and thought he had a mandate. I think of how Nixon swept the electoral college in 1972, and thought he had a mandate. Nearer in time to us was the self-destruction of the Clintons’ healthcare reform, followed immediately by Newt Gingrich’s self-destruction when he mistook a majority in the House for a national mandate.

From a fearful, self-interested public you do not get mandates. You get warnings that look like mandates.

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Freedom Fighter writes:
November 14, 2002
I'm not sure if Barnabas is making a point about mandates as a whole, or if he's just bitter about this election. Certainly, FDR never had a mandate either. No one ever has a mandate to violate human rights or increase oppression, no matter how popular such may be.

That said, if Barnabas thinks, for example, that the Republicans have no mandate to initiate tax cuts, he can always do the decent thing and pay more in taxes than he legally owes, and try to persuade his Democrat neighbors to do the same.

Barnabas from The Partial Observer writes:
November 15, 2002
I guess Freedom Fighter will have to decide on the basis of his readership whether Barnabas is an ethicist or not.

Barnabas was not evaluating the election, but the interpretation of it. The way our representative government is established, a very few votes change the majority in Congress. Naturally the prevailing party will and should use this majority to its advantage whenever it can.

Absurdity lies in reading too much significance into these votes. It is too small a sampling to gauge the national temper. For example, in Minnesota, enough independents may have swayed toward the Republicans because they were offended by the political nature of the Wellstone memorial service and thus changing the majority in the Senate.

But we can't have it both ways. If their offense made the difference, they have no deep Republican convictions (besides which, Coleman is a moderate). They have given the Republicans their votes - it remains to be seen whether they have given them their hearts.

The Democrats would have been just as absurd had they trumpeted that a view votes meant a national rejection of the President and all his policies, or indeed as absurd as they are now, reacting as though they have been massively rejected. They have been sufficiently beaten to lose leadership of the Senate. That's functionally big, but not philosophically big.


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