Use it and you immediately give yourself the job of defining it and explaining why you think you have a mandate or why the other guy doesn’t have a mandate and then what you have a mandate to do or what the other guy doesn’t have a mandate to do.
But, second, and here’s my real point: It doesn’t matter that the President won ~51 percent of the popular vote to Mitt’s ~48 or that he won with a landslide in the electoral college. He has a mandate and he’d have had the same mandate if he’d won by a lot less or a lot more. Mandates don’t depend on the size of a victory. When you’re elected to office you automatically have a mandate to do what you said you were going to do during the campaign whether you won by one vote or three million.
This is one of the ground rules of our democratic republic. We all agree going in to an election of any kind that the winner gets the keys to the car until the next election.
So…the duly elected driver climbs behind the wheel and sets out for a destination he marked with an X at the end of a route he mapped out during the campaign with all the passengers (that’s us), knowing what’s ahead, agreeing to shut up and let the driver drive…unless and until we see the car’s headed for a ditch or into the path of an oncoming semi or we notice the driver’s got a lead foot and is burning too much gas or he’s crawling along with his blinker on although there’s no turn coming up or he isn’t actually headed where he’d promised to take us.
Basically, backseat driving is part of the agreement.
But we also accept that there will bumps and detours. Bridges will turn out to have been washed out. Roads will turn out not lead where the GPS says they do. We’ll have to slow down for construction or the weather. Occasionally the car will break down and need to go into the shop. Side trips we’d hoped to make will have to be skipped or saved for another day.
It’s not going to be an easy ride.
It’d be a lot less easy if the driver has to stop and ask for permission at every turn from the people who didn’t want him as their driver.
But here’s the thing.
He sort of does.
Part of the agreement is that takes responsibility for all the passengers in the car. He respects their interests and concerns and takes them in consideration as he makes decisions about where to go next and how to get there.
He is, to paraphrase the current driver, the driver for all the people.
There’s something else.
Whatever a mandate is and however strong or weak one is, the President isn’t the only one who gets one.
Every candidate elected to Congress has their own mandate, including lunatics like Michele Bachmann, moral midgets like Paul Ryan, and clowns like Ted Cruz. And in many cases they’ve been given their mandates by the same people who gave one to President Obama, who carried Paul Ryan’s district handily, meaning many people up there voted to both repeal and save Obamacare, let the Bush tax cuts expire and make them permanent, protect women’s right to choose and ban abortion completely, and expand rights for gays and lesbians and take them all away.
So, this is the agreement. All the winners have mandates, no matter how much he or she won by, but that mandate is conditional and somewhat compromised from the beginning by the winners’ agreeing not to ignore the people who didn’t vote for them.
Nationwide, the President received almost 64 million votes.
That’s a lot of votes.
But Mitt Romney collected close to 60 million votes.
That’s also a lot of votes.
It would be wrong, not to mention destructive, to govern as if all those 58 and a half million people’s opinions, wishes, and interests didn’t matter.
It would also be very Republican.
The Republican Right has rejected the agreement.
As far as they’ve been concerned, going back before Clinton, to Kennedy and to Truman and FDR, the winner isn’t a winner when the winner is a Democrat, so no Democratic President has a mandate, ever. Meanwhile, Republicans always have a mandate even if they’ve won by only one vote, because no other votes count except their own.
What it gets down to is that Republicans believe in the tyranny of the majority and that they are always the majority.
Even when they aren’t.