Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 25, 2008

CLAIMING A MANDATE.... In the immediate aftermath of the elections, there were a handful of Republicans who wanted to debate the meaning of the word "mandate." Apparently, Barack Obama's impressive victory -- the highest popular vote margin for a non-incumbent in a half-century -- shouldn't compel lawmakers to help him pass the policy agenda he presented the voters during the campaign.

I couldn't hear the wording of the question, but during today's press event in Chicago, Obama said without hesitation that he'd earned "a mandate to move the country in a new direction and not continue the same old practices that have gotten us into the fix we are in." He added, however, that he's anxious to work with Republicans and listen to their ideas. "[W]e enter into the administration with a sense of humility and a recognition that wisdom is not the monopoly of any political party."

Greg Sargent raised a good point.

This is probably too obvious to point out, but the game here is that Obama is working to frame GOP obstructionism in advance. By simultaneously claiming a mandate while approaching Republicans with "humility" and a request for their help, Obama is boxing out Republican opponents in advance, laying the groundwork to cast them as partisan and hostile to the people's will.

That's why it's still lost on yours truly why people are seeing Obama as "centrist" based on his bipartisan gestures and tone or his "pragmatic" staff picks. This stuff is just about positioning in advance, and the real tell will lie in his actual policies.

Sounds right to me. There's already some question about whether Republican moderates are prepared to break party ranks and cooperate with Dems on the votes that really matter, and Obama's reminder was less than subtle: he's reaching out, and he's prepared to work in good faith, but he's also coming into the presidency in the wake of a veritable landslide (365 electoral votes).

Obama has a progressive policy agenda that's been endorsed by the electorate, the pitch goes, and Republican obstructionism -- "the same old practices" -- should not be viewed kindly.

Steve Benen 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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Drowning the Republicans in sugar....

Posted by: jen f on November 25, 2008 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

Regarding the link to the Collins article, what standing do Republicans have to complain after Frist campaigned against Daschle in 2004? In any event, the Republican Senator to lean on is Specter, if he is serious about seeking a fifth term in 2010.

Posted by: John Dillinger on November 25, 2008 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

What would the Democratic response to Bush have been if he had reached across the aisle in 2001?

From what I remember, Democrats were absolutely certain Bush would have to involve them, due to his razor-thin victory. The ensuing Republican bulldozer left them dazed & confused.

Posted by: wishIwuz2 on November 25, 2008 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

That seemed to me to be his strategy all along. He made an appeal during the election to moderate GOP voters by not demonizing business and the GOP in general, at least not too much. But he was also laying the groundwork for a kind of post-partisanship that would exclude the GOP obstructionists. In other words, he offered GOPers a chance to work with him, but if they chose to stick to their partisan tactics, he would go over their heads to the public, to the coalition he had built, and cut them off at the knees. He's serving notice of that strategy right now.

I think Mark Schmitt wrote something about this a few months ago--a strategy based on Obama's experience as a community organizer.

Posted by: Mimikatz on November 25, 2008 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Shorter Obama:Get on board the bus or get flattened by the bus.

Your pick.

Posted by: Karmakin on November 25, 2008 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

The other Senators to lean on who are also up in 2010 are Voinovich of OH, Grassley of IA and Martinez of FL. Olympia Snowe of ME will survive as Susan Collins did, but she might come over on some issues as well.

Posted by: Mimikatz on November 25, 2008 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

"There's already some question about whether Republican moderates are prepared to break party ranks and..."

Whoa, whoa, whoa. You lost me there at "Republican moderates." Are we speaking hypothetically?

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on November 25, 2008 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

Say what you will about Chicago's grittier aspects, it breeds the most refined political chess players of all! Go Chicagobama!

Posted by: Karen on November 25, 2008 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

Big deal.
Everyone who wins an election claims a mandate. Bush did it in 2000 and 2004, even though his victories in both elections are slim margins at best.

What's more important is that the Bush administration is apparently going to f*** things up as much as possible in the next two months. TWO MONTHS! That's an eternity in today's situation.

I'm glad that Obama has chosen some solid no-nonsense people to actually work to get this ship righted.

As we know, though, unless we see huge budget surpluses and unemployment under 2% and DOW 15000 by 2010, the Republicans will be saying he's a failure.

Posted by: springfielder on November 25, 2008 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, sounds right to me. Obama is like none we've seen before so I think we are sorta scratching our heads.

But as I step back, so far everything--well, aside from the tip of the hat to Lieberman--seems to be a good if not great choice. Maybe in time I'll even see the Lieberman thing differently.

Don't forget that we are largely in unchartered territory here--with this level of intellect and foresight along with this amount of national and international dis-array.

Heck, I'm happy he'll be the guy to appoint the new Supreme Court Justices..that alone is reason to feel very good about President-Elect Obama (not that we need one).

I have a sense we are all going to learn and grow as a country with this man--he seems to call forth the same in a big way.

I'm very excited about the next four years--hopefully eight!

Posted by: Why add drama on top of drama? on November 25, 2008 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

Dick Cheney on 11-3-2004 after a 3% PV margin and a 286-252 Electoral college spread.
This has been a consequential presidency which has revitalized our economy and reasserted a confident American role in the world. Yet in the election of 2004, we did more than campaign on a record. President Bush ran forthrightly on a clear agenda for this nation's future and the nation responded by giving him a MANDATE. Now we move forward to serve and to guard the country we love.

Posted by: HL Mungo on November 25, 2008 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

We've had a dolt in charge, now it's time for an adult.

Republicans= History

God Bush America!

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on November 25, 2008 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

This is what I thought all along and resented the "push" to say Obama would govern center right ...even coming from some of our dem leaders. I began to get paranoid when these people claimed I just misinterpreted Obama as liberal and pursuing a liberal/ progressive agenda when he was nothing of the sort and never promised us anything along those lines...and his appointments reflect his centrist position.

I attribute it to being invaded by Paliens

Posted by: joey on November 25, 2008 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

There are Republican moderates in Congress? (I assume you mean Snowe and Collins in the Senate).

Well whatever, if there are any if I were Obama I wouldn't hold my breath. Those alleged moderates likely live in fear of the RNC backing a more "pure" Republican the next time they are up for re-election.

Posted by: ET on November 25, 2008 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

That's why it's still lost on yours truly why people are seeing Obama as "centrist" based on his bipartisan gestures and tone or his "pragmatic" staff picks.

Why are people seeing Obama as centrist? Because those people are ideologicial assholes and idiots, who care nothing about solutions or accomplishments. They have a martini in one hand, their genitals in the other, and that's pretty much the way they like it.

So kudos to anyone and everyone who's decided that these idiots deserve no place in our political machinery -- whether they're on the right or left. The great middle of American politics is pragmatic, but you wouldn't know that from the press coverage because pragmatism is boring and doesn't sell.

Let's hope Obama gets it. He seems to, and he ran his campaign that way, but the jury's still out.

Posted by: The Phantom on November 25, 2008 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

This is what I've been saying about Obama since the primaries. Centrists Dems weren't telling people that they were going to work with Republicans. Centrists were always talking about how they're going to defeat Republicans and pretended to be doing so from the left. You can go back and read Hillary's speeches to the DLC and there isn't any talk about being nice to Republicans. Centrism was always about fighting Republicans by stealing their positions, by adopting moderate versions of whatever the Republicans were offering. And so they'd "win" the battle by forfeiting the war.

And I kept trying to explain that to the folks who insisted that Obama was a centrist. He was doing the exact opposite of centrism: He talked about bi-partisanship, while selling liberal positions. And that's exactly what we needed.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on November 25, 2008 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

Snowe and Collins have no fears from the Club to Growth wing of the GOP. They're relatively conservative, so the only difference would be the advertising. I have no idea if a Jim DeMint kind of Republican could win the primary, but I cannot imagine Mainers actually electing such a candidate.

Posted by: freelunch on November 25, 2008 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

" ... wisdom is not the monopoly of any political party."

It doesn't have to be. "Lack of wisdom" is the monopoly of the GOP; thus, we exercise our physical possession of wisdom by default.

Posted by: Steve W. on November 25, 2008 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

absolutely brilliant politics.

Posted by: mudwall jackson on November 25, 2008 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

To Greg Sargent, as channeled by Steve:

Because his real policies, and the real persons who have been advising him, are centrist?

Ask a dumb rhetorical question, get a simple answer.

Read a REAL opinion mag, like Counterpunch or something.

Yes, Phantom, I'm talkign to you.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on November 25, 2008 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

The other Senators to lean on who are also up in 2010 are Voinovich of OH, Grassley of IA and Martinez of FL.

It may be worth talking with Grassley just because he is often willing to break ranks, but leaning on him due to a pending election wont matter: as someone on the ground in Iowa I can safely there is zero chance Grassley loses his reelection campaign. It is highly unlikely the Dems run anyone serious against him, his war chest is huge, and he remains popular.

Posted by: zeitgeist on November 25, 2008 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

The article about Collins and all its talk about "colleagues" brings to mind the legendary correction of a new staffer who referred to the other party as the enemy - "The other party is the opposition, the other chamber is the enemy".

And thus Joe is still with us.

Posted by: snoey on November 25, 2008 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

I've got an idea.

Instead of progressive or conservative or centrist or leftist or whatever, how about solutionist?

Posted by: Jim Ramsey on November 25, 2008 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

But it is the left's job to put fight, and sell the head fake.

Posted by: joyncassie on November 25, 2008 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

Now, now, it's only fair to mention that Diulio took it all back, later.

Posted by: Allen K. on November 25, 2008 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK

As a non-voter, I resent this talk of mandate.

Posted by: Luther on November 25, 2008 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

a little ju-jitsu, if you will..

he's setting them up as the fall guys....for sure... i can't possibly believe that obama seriously thinks that what's left of the republican leadership has any intention of working WITH him on anything.....

if you missed the post on how opposing obamacare will be a matter of survival for the gop...i'd get crackin'....

Posted by: dj spellchecka on November 25, 2008 at 6:47 PM | PERMALINK

Republican views on "fairness" and "mandate" are going to shift here: I remember talking with my Very-Republican father, after the 2004 election, when he was applauding Bush's claim of a mandate then. "To fight terrorism, the President needs to have much greater control over this country," my father said, "and now he's going to get it."

"And in four years," I asked, "will you allow Pres. Hillary Clinton (. . . as I thought) those same powers to protect us?"


Posted by: Sophie in VA on November 25, 2008 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK

By simultaneously claiming a mandate while approaching Republicans with "humility"[...] Greg Sargent, via Steve Benen

I'll lay any odds that the Repubs will remember the "humility" bit for-ever-and-ever-amen, without ever even *registering* the "mandate" bit. According to their "Selective History Through the Biblical Lens", *Bush* had a mandate; Obama not so much. Numbers? What are you? Some effing educated elitist?

Posted by: exlibra on November 25, 2008 at 8:12 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder what the absolute maximum number of House and Senate seats the GOP could forfeit through their rigidity and ideological stubbornness.

There are a number of districts that would remain in conservative hands regardless of how reckless republicans are, but there has got to be a fracture point.

Posted by: TBpne on November 25, 2008 at 10:22 PM | PERMALINK

The worst part of it all: What Obama has done - how's he's played the Clintons, McCain and the GOP during the election, how he's setting them up now - it's not even genius.

Why did it take so long for a democrat to insist an end to the governing garbage.

Posted by: TBpne on November 25, 2008 at 10:28 PM | PERMALINK

Will the Republicans try to obstruct Obama's agenda? Duh.

Will the MSM play along with GOP obstructionism by headlining stories "Obama fails to move Congress" instead of "GOP blocks legislation?" Stay tuned.

Posted by: allbetsareoff on November 26, 2008 at 2:20 AM | PERMALINK

Sometimes a mandate comes in defeat as well.

It is not merely Obama's victory that makes for teh mandate.
It is the solid drubbing the opposition received.

A mandate isn't a claim by the victors, it is the marching orders of those that gave the victory.

The GOP will ignore THE mandate at their peril mistaking it for a mandate Obama has created. Perhaps he can call this possibility to their attention and stop believing blindly that the public backs them despite all evidence to the contrary. Election results occur as they do for reasons.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on November 26, 2008 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK



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