Magazine article The New Yorker

Mandate with Destiny

Magazine article The New Yorker

Mandate with Destiny

Article excerpt

Thanksgiving was still two weeks away when the Republican Party, to its evident shock, found itself stuffed, trussed, roasted, and ready to be served with all the trimmings. This was not the menu that the Party's nominees, donors, and operatives had looked forward to. It was emphatically not the feast they had been primed to expect by their vulpine cheerleaders in the island universe of the illiberal media. ROMNEY BEATS OBAMA, HANDILY, Michael Barone trumpeted a few days before the election in the Examiner, Washington's conservative giveaway daily. (The Chicago Tribune, back in '48, had at least left out the "handily.") "I think it's this: a Romney win," Peggy Noonan assured her Wall Street Journal blog readers the day before the polls opened. ("All the vibrations are right," she explained.) Also on Election Eve, Dick Morris, a Fox News "analyst" reputed to be a pollster, promised "a landslide for Romney." The same prediction--not just a win, a landslide--was bruited from the sinkholes (Glenn Beck) to the summits (George F. Will) of the right's intellectual sierra.

News flash: the President won, handily. With late returns still trickling in, his popular-vote margin now exceeds four million, a million more than George W. Bush amassed when he ran for reelection. (Obama's electoral-college majority is also larger: 332 to Mitt Romney's 206, as against Bush's 286 to John Kerry's 251.) When it came to this year's thirty-three Senate races, Republican prophecies of a Republican takeover, universal some months ago, grew rarer as November approached, except on the farther-out reaches of conservative punditry. Human Events, which describes itself as Ronald Reagan's favorite newspaper, and CBN, the religious-right TV network, each predicted a net gain of five seats for the G.O.P. Morris, who predicted a six-seat gain, gloated that a Republican Senate would be "Barack Obama's parting gift to the Democratic Party." That it was, except for the "parting" part. And except for the "Republican" part: not only did the Democratic caucus grow from fifty-three to fifty-five, Democratic senatorial candidates got a total of ten million more votes than their Republican opponents.

In 2004, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, conservatism's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, congratulated President Bush for "what by any measure is a decisive mandate for a second term" and exulted, "Mr. Bush has been given the kind of mandate that few politicians are ever fortunate enough to receive." This year, examining similar numbers with different labels, the Journal came up with a sterner interpretation. "President Obama won one of the narrower re-elections in modern times," its editorial announced. Also:

Mr. Obama will now have to govern the America he so relentlessly sought to divide--and without a mandate beyond the powers of the Presidency. Democrats will hold the Senate, perhaps with an additional seat or two. But Republicans held the House comfortably, so their agenda was hardly repudiated. . . . Speaker John Boehner can negotiate knowing he has as much of a mandate as the President.

Ah, yes: the House. The Republicans will have seven or eight fewer seats in that body, but hold it they did, and this fact is what those among them who are stuck at Stage 1 of Mme. Kubler-Ross's five-stage topography of grief ("Denial"), and even a few who are tentatively assaying Stage 3 ("Bargaining"), are clinging to. (Talk radio is permanently tuned to Stage 2, "Anger," and Stage 4, "Depression," hangs heavy.) In the view of these Republicans, the election was a tie; and on the legitimacy of their most cherished goal--keeping rich folks' taxes at their current historic lows or lowering them even more--they claimed vindication. …

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