In 2008, the Democratic sweep and Barack Obama’s big seven-point win made it clear that voters gave the Democrats a mandate for change. Yesterday, Joe Biden claimed that Obama’s two-point win and the split decision on Congress from the voters gave them “a clear sort of mandate” on raising taxes, while John Boehner claimed that the GOP win in the House gave Republicans a mandate to block tax hikes. Today on Morning Joe, David Axelrod called the notion of a presidential mandate “foolish” and “generally untrue”:
Axelrod said presidents always talk after an election about a mandate, but he called such talk “foolish.” President Obama and congressional Republicans are bracing for talks on tax hikes and spending cuts that are now set to be implemented in January.
“Everyone’s going to have to come to the table in the spirit of getting things done, but on this issue of particularly the fiscal cliff — presidents always say, ‘I have a mandate’; that’s a foolish word and generally untrue,” Axelrod told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Thursday.
“But the president did campaign all over this country … on the need for balanced deficit reduction that included some new revenues and he was reelected in a significant way, so hopefully people will read those results and read them as a vote for cooperation.”
But did he? Howard Kurtz called Obama’s message “vague” in arguing that it’s practically impossible to claim a mandate:
If history is any guide, Obama has about a year to notch major accomplishments before midterm politics—and the shadow of lame-duck status—undermine his effectiveness. But it is equally true that by failing to lay out a detailed agenda in 2012, Obama forfeited his ability to claim a specific mandate.
When Bush won a close election in 2004, he said he planned to spend his political “capital”—and pushed a Social Security privatization scheme he had never proposed in the campaign. It quickly went down in flames.
Obama’s best hope is that he can hammer out compromises on issues that would yield political dividends for both sides. Mann says the president could make progress on immigration, energy, and education. But it would be hard to argue, given the vagueness of his campaign, that he won a specific mandate.
The results of the election probably should impose a little humility on all sides. Axelrod, at least, seems to have found that to be the true mandate of this election.