The Obama mandate
There’s a lot of talk about what sort of “mandate” Obama might have in his second term. Naturally, his political opponents insist he doesn’t have one, just as Democrats would have insisted Mitt Romney didn’t have a mandate. It’s a time-honored ritual following elections.
But a lot of the denials about Obama’s mandate seem a bit wishful to me. For example, here’s House Speaker John Boehner, quoted in The Hill:
Boehner described the House GOP majority over the last two years as “the primary line of defense” against a government that “spends too much, taxes too much and certainly borrows too much.”
“The American people want solutions — and tonight, they’ve responded by renewing our House Republican majority,” Boehner said. “With this vote, the American people have also made clear that there is no mandate for raising tax rates.”
The Speaker made no mention of Obama in his remarks, which lasted just about three minutes.
“What Americans want are solutions that will ease the burden on small businesses, bring jobs home and let our economy grow,” he said. “We stand ready to work with any willing partner — Republican, Democrat or otherwise — who shares a commitment to getting these things done.”
I don’t want to kneecap the Speaker before he gets to the battlements for his valiant last stand against spending too much, taxing too much, and borrowing too much, but I find it much more likely that he and his caucus are going to get rolled. The big “debt ceiling battle” of 2011 got us a useless Budget Control Act composed primarily of fig leaves. We also got a “deficit-cutting Super Committee” kabuki show whose fail-safe sequestration measures were, at best, a political draw for Obama, and probably more of a political plus. He made sure sequestration didn’t hurt him any; a lot of swing voters were persuaded to see it as “heartless cuts” to the programs they love so very much, when all of our problems could be solved by just taxing faceless, selfish rich people a little more.
I wouldn’t be sanguine about any lines remaining carved in the sand against tax increases after the next debt ceiling shatters over our heads, as America rides Willy Wonka’s Great Glass Debt Elevator into orbit. That’s the problem with this “no mandate” argument. To Democrats, even the tiniest sliver of power is a mandate. Donald Trump’s last book made some interesting points about their tendency to bid very high, and settle for enough to keep the government growing at a pleasing rate. They’ll raise spending by 20 percent and taxes by 10 percent; when you object, they’ll “settle” for 10 and 5.
That’s where a lot of Obama’s second term mandate will come from – it will be said, with plenty of hosannas from the media, that House Republican “intransigence” against tax increases must end. In return, maybe the national debt will only grow by $4 trillion over the next four years instead of $5 trillion, and that will be hailed as a historic achievement in bipartisan spending restraint. (How much did we actually save during Boehner’s last “grand bargain,” again? Didn’t it work out to a few billion dollars a year – barely enough to qualify as a rounding error?) The people whose property rights Boehner wants to protect have been officially stripped of their faces, and their connection to the general prosperity of those who gain investment capital and employment from them has been erased from the public mind.
The expansion of centralized power happens more or less automatically, unless it is actively and vigorously resisted. Such a “mandate” is not easily voided, not without very powerful and inspirational leadership. There actually will be plenty of popular support for Boehner and the rest of the Republican caucus if they provide such leadership, but Obama and his allies will work very hard to keep them from seeing it.