August 17, 2009

The Myth of the Obama Mandate

I was able to catch part of Iowa Senator Grassley’s town hall meetings and at one point a gray haired Grandmother type rose to speak and I was struck by the fear in her voice. President Obama won over voters from across the spectrum with promises of Hope and Change. I suspect this Grandma may have been one. However, in the course of six months, with the belief that he had an electoral mandate, he has managed to scare the pants off of Grandmas across the country.

In his book Interpreting Elections Stanley Kelly defines mandates:

Its first element is the belief that elections carry messages about problems and policies and programs; messages plain to all and specific enough to be directive...

Second the theory holds that certain of these messages must be treated as authoritative commands… To qualify as mandates messages about policies and programs must reflect the stable views both of the individual voters and of the electorate...

To suggest that a mandate exists for a particular policy is to suggest that more than a bare majority of those voting are agreed upon it.

It is safe to say that the Hope and Change that the electorate opted for was a repudiation of the Bush administration and Republican performance in general. This message was clear and specific, Obama's prime directive was to not be Bush.

Beyond that you cannot say that there were any authoritative commands. It became evident after the election that voters didn’t have a clue about Obama’s actual plans. He may have sent a thrill up their leg during the campaign but when it came to his agenda there was a disconnect between Obama as orator and Obama as President.

Kelly goes on to say, “Governments should not undertake major innovations on policy or procedure, except in emergencies, unless the electorate has had the opportunity to consider them in an election and thus to express its views."

Obama tried to frame healthcare as an emergency but the Chicken Little approach was worn thin on the heels of TARP and the Stimulus. Obama also ignored the fact that a majority of the electorate has never supported a shift to socialized medicine nor has there been a reasonable debate about the issue. Obama believed that under the mantle of electoral mandate he could, through sheer force of personality and a legislative blitzkrieg, ramrod healthcare past the American people.

Traditionally Americans reject this kind of hubris and we are seeing the beginning of mandate running headlong into political reality. Unfortunately, I don’t think this President is one to retire quietly to the Rose Garden. So hang on Grandma this is liable to be a long wild ride.

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