Opinion: Whatever the Right Says, Obama Has a Huge Mandate
Wednesday, November 07, 2012 - 08:53 AM
So the Empire State Building is a beautiful shade of blue, and the concise but complete message that our reelected president issued on Twitter, "Four more years" — along with a typically heart-melting photo of him and the First Lady embracing in the glow of victory — has already become the most popular tweet in history.
And after an anxious hour, during which the Romney campaign maintained that "we worked hard for every vote and want to see all of them counted," the governor finally came out and delivered a short and graceful concession, congratulating the president and wishing him the strength and wisdom to lead this country through the continued trying times we'll face in the years to come. "This election is over," he said — seemingly dropping a lid on simmering Republican insurgency.
And yet, the reality is that the radicalization of the GOP is too complete, and the stakes remain too high, for any real post-election coming-together to occur.
Over the past four years, the Republicans learned they could control the narrative even as the out party by playing the darkest of political games. They would insure that as little as possible could get done, while attacking Obama's presidency as its roots, attempting not just to stall his administration but to delegitimize it.
The slash-and-burn program began early: When he first decided to run, it was about his experience — he was too junior, too unveiled, too untested. When he became a threat to win, it became about the presumed skeletons in his past: Was he a drug user, a poor student, a racist, a Marxist — or perhaps, not even an American at all?
When he shockingly won, it was about his character: his honesty, his courage, his love of country. He was at once too professorial and wonkish, then too lazy and unserious. He was arrogant. He was a milquetoast. He was simultaneously impassive and the archetype of the "angry black man." The goal was to cast him as failing in every qualification, and lacking any right to sit in his seat, to occupy a house that was, after all, white.
Tuesday night, after Romney's brief concession speech was dispensed with, the klaxons of the Right got back onto this corrosively partisan program of denying Obama's propers.
On live television, Karl Rove forced a retraction of Fox News's announcement that the president had won reelection, then sent anchor Megyn Kelly scooting awkwardly backstage to challenge Fox's own "decision desk" analysts over what he called their "premature" calling of Ohio for Obama.
When Kelly returned as a sheepish messenger for the stat divison's cold, hard numbers, Rove begrudgingly acknowledged that Obama might have eked out a victory — and then immediately began spinning it as a feeble one that required the president to "be humble" and bow to the wishes of the Republican House. "Obama is the first president in history to get fewer electoral votes for his second term than his first," he spat. "That just shows how he blew the last two years."
Kelly, picking up Rove's thread, asked why Republican voters, representing half of the electorate, should feel like they had to change any of their attitudes or priorities given this slim, rounding-error defeat. Then, pundit Charles Krauthammer stated straight out that the win came without a "mandate" for the president.
That's a theme that the GOP leadership seems to have embraced. House Speaker John Boehner, whose contingent shrank by two seats and lost some of its highest-profile members (including Florida Rep. Allen West and Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh), nevertheless maintained that the results of the election failed to show clear public support for Obama as a leader, or the policies he had pushed for in his first term.
This is a patently absurd stance. Obama's thumping victory — 332 electoral votes, losing just two of the states he won in his sweeping first-term total of 365, and a popular-vote margin of at least two points — was significantly greater in scale than almost anyone - save Josh Putnam from Davidson College - dared to project, and was in fact exactly the opposite of the Romney landslide that a growing number on the Right were predicting. The shock at the outcome showed plainly in the ashen faces and shaky voices of Fox's "fair and balanced" personalities.
It wasn't just that the president won. It's that he won with totals that hugely outstripped those in both of the wins of the last Republican president, George W. Bush — eight years in which sweeping changes were unleashed that impacted virtually every pillar of the American polity. It's that he won while successfully defending and even buffering a Democratic Senate that many had assumed would be devastated. In short, whatever Fox's talking heads and the Republican elected leadership might claim, Obama won with not just a mandate, but a resounding one.
And he will resume office with the political playing field tilted strongly in his favor. The sequester, passed under duress in August 2011, has set things up so that Obama has leverage over the budget; the imminent expiration of the Bush cuts gives him leverage over tax policy.
Most of Obamacare's significant changes will take place beginning in 2014. With Harry Reid even more firmly ensconced as Senate Majority Leader, there is the potential for changes to be made to the filibuster rules that stymied legislative progress in Obama's first term. And perhaps most importantly, the President will be able to nominate at least one, and perhaps as many as four, justices to the Supreme Court.
Which is why Republicans jumped in to try to diminish the president scarce moments after his election. And which is why if that fails, they'll go even farther to ensure that, in Rove's words, the president will "lose the war," even if he "won the battle."
Take heed of the words of Stanley Kurtz of the conservative standardbearer National Review: "Barack Obama has won reelection," he writes, "yet there remains one way out. At this point, only a sweeping new grassroots rebellion on the model of the Tea Party could change things."
Perhaps the war Rove was referring to wasn't metaphorical.