Political scientists have long argued whether there is really any “mandate” associated with a presidential election. Are voters endorsing any specific proposals when they send someone to the White House?
The current fight over the implementation of Obamacare hinges on an attempt to squeeze the definition of a presidential “mandate” into the pocket of an angel dancing on a pin. The GOP majority in the House of Representatives is toying with shutting down the government or defaulting on the national debt unless Obama meets its demands not only on Obamacare, but also on issues like the Clean Air Act and banking regulation. This is essentially a crusade to make the presidency a ceremonial office in a parliamentary system, “whose role is simply to assent to the policy preferences of the legislative majority,” as Matthew Yglesias writes. Well, it’s not clear whether the target is the president or this president; there’s hasn’t been much discussion about what happens beyond the next three years.
In short, the Republicans now in charge of their party’s strategy are arguing that Obama’s reelection last year is superseded by the election of a GOP majority to the House, even though more people voted for Democratic House candidates.
If the U.S. really did have the flexibility of a parliamentary system, this impasse might be resolved by a new election, hopefully sparing us from at least three more years of divided government. But if the Democrats and Republicans both want to escape blame for shutting down the government, they’d probably be terrified by the backlash from forcing voters to go through another election so soon.
Instead, the Republicans are arguing that the last election doesn’t matter. Former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint says that voters didn’t get a chance to register their disapproval of Obamacare since voting against Obama wouldn’t have been clear enough. “Because of Romney and Romneycare, we did not litigate the Obamacare issue,” he says. (“Essentially, DeMint is declaring a mistrial,” writes Businessweek’s Joshua Green.)
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, in his 21-hour speech before colleagues last week, made it sound as if grass-roots activism was invented on November 7, 2012. As Slate.com’s David Weigel writes in a post on “Post-Democracy Republicans,” Cruz made several references to an online petition by the Senate Conservatives Fund. “I want to stand and fight for the more than 1.6 million Americans who signed a national petition against Obamacare and to the millions more who did not because they were told by a politician it is not possible [to stop the law],” Cruz said. (Note: The Democrat who lost to Cruz by 16 points last year got 3.2 million votes in Texas.)
It went mostly unremarked on at the time, but think about this: Cruz was demanding that a law be defunded because of an Internet petition. The 2012 election results, and their 64 million votes for Barack Obama, were moot, thanks to the fractional number of conservatives who'd gone online after seeing a Cruz/SCF TV ad.
Another tactic is to argue that Obama is committing malfeasance by not accepting the premise that his health care law is destroying the economy. U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), one of the hard-liners in the GOP House, made this pitch to Politico—sounding like a character in a 1950s movie about giant mutant insects, sorrowfully concluding that nuking the East Coast is the only chance to save humanity.
“Listen, our biggest struggle is to get the economy back on track,” Farenthold insisted. “We’ve tried spending cuts. We’ve tried the president’s tax increases… I think the consensus—certainly within my conference—is that Obamacare is the biggest thing in the way of economic growth.”
The Weekly Standard’s Jeffrey H. Anderson prefers a slightly more contemporary sci-fi analogy:
As Republicans debate the best strategy going forward, it’s worth considering that, defunding Obamacare—were it remotely possible—would simply put the Death Star out of commission for a year. Delaying the individual mandate— which is quite achievable—could well make it implode.
Then there’s the continuing rhetoric to the effect that, elections notwithstanding, this Obama guy just doesn’t belong in the White House. The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan, a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, last week sadly concluded that “Barack Obama’s reputation among his fellow international players has deflated, his stature almost collapsed.” The assessment was based on conversations with world leaders who have time to talk with, and aren’t inclined to contradict, Peggy Noonan:
This reminded me of a talk a few weeks ago, with another veteran diplomat who often confers with leaders with whom Mr. Obama meets. I had asked: When Obama enters a room with other leaders, is there a sense that America has entered the room? I mentioned de Gaulle—when he was there, France was there. When Reagan came into a room, people stood: America just walked in. Does Mr. Obama bring that kind of mystique?
“No,” he said. "It's not like that.”
We’re not set up for this kind of thing, but it almost seems like the “vibrations are right” for a military coup to correct the mistake of Novembers 2008 and 2012. By comparison, holding the national debt hostage is a reasonable step.
At TheNew Republic, Norman Ornstein sees one way we can use the current crisis to make sure it never happens again: “There is one area where Obama could and should be willing to negotiate with Republicans—to take the default option, the full faith and credit of the United States, off the table permanently.” He adds that this achievement “would be valuable enough that it should extract some real concessions from the president to achieve it.”
The United States would probably be better off with this outcome. But though political scientists differ over the scope and very existence of a mandate from a presidential election, I think everyone can agree: Obama voters were not sending a message that he should abandon the policies he campaigned on in order to preserve the office of the presidency for whoever comes after him.
Boston’s Irish v. Irish election
The results of last week’s mayoral primary in Boston didn’t much national attention; two white Irish guys made the run-off, getting less than 20 percent each, and precluded any “first x mayor in Boston history” stories. MASSterList has a map comparing the top two candidates, state Rep. Martin Walsh and City Councilor John Connolly. Another map of Boston precincts, tweeted by CommonWealth magazine’s Paul McMorrow, hints that a rising sea level could threaten any hope of Walsh’s to beat outgoing Mayor Tom Menino’s 20 years in office. And Universal Hub has a ward words map with the names of the candidates covering the neighborhoods they carried.
There has also been some good commentary on the lack of a woman or minority candidate in the general election. The Boston Globe’s Yvonne Abraham wrote a column titled “It Looks Worse Than It Is”:
…it’s not as if the city isn’t ready for a black or Latino or woman leader. There is a huge hunger out there, as was demonstrated by Ayanna Pressley’s first-place finish in the at-large council preliminary, and especially by Charlotte Golar Richie’s third-place finish in the mayoral contest. Golar Richie was a way weaker candidate than her resume. In a campaign that turned almost solely on ideas, in which other candidates offered thoughtful plans for changing Boston, Golar Richie was comically careful, reluctant to answer questions directly or to offer specifics. She was the status quo candidate tying herself more closely to Menino than anyone in the field save the delightful Rob Consalvo, his surrogate son. Yet voters vaulted Golar Richie to within a few thousand votes of the top two finishers. If she had offered half as much as some of the others did, she would be the most likely next mayor.
CommonWealth’s Gabrielle Gurley also called Golar Richie, a former member of Menino’s cabinet, a weak candidate and suggested that Boston’s minority community may be too savvy to vote in lockstep:
Boston could have had an African-American or a Latino in the final round if there had been any consensus on who that person should have been. That neither [Felix] Arroyo or [John} Barros heeded the pleas of someblack ministers to unite behind Richie is not surprising. Why should two smart, energetic men with bright political futures get in step behind a woman who squandered a rare gift in Massachusetts politics: a civilized, issue-oriented campaign?
As for the issues in the general election, the Globe’s Renée Loth hopes that the finalists address the “demographic divide” (seen in other major cities) between the hip, childless neighborhoods and the areas where families are trying to get by:
Compared to young professionals just out of college and retiring baby boomers with pricey pied-a-terres, families with children tend to be more stable, community-focused, and civically engaged. It’s no surprise that the neighborhoods with the fewest children (Allston-Brighton, Fenway, Back Bay, Beacon Hill) had the lowest voter turnouts in Tuesday’s preliminary election.
Forty percent of Boston’s children are concentrated in just two neighborhoods: Dorchester and Roxbury. Most live in single-parent households, and nearly half have at least one foreign-born parent. Immigrant families have always been a vibrant force in urban growth, but they needn’t be isolated in one district, where their concerns can be out of sight for much of the population.
Photo of President Barack Obama from Catholic News Service.