There’s no such thing as a ‘mandate’
November 8, 2012, 7:30 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

So now the arguments are coming out that President Obama doesn’t have a ‘mandate’. (HT)

Since this is something the losing party always tries to console themselves with, this seems as good a time as any for me to point out that there’s no such thing as a ‘mandate’. You will fail to find this word in the Constitution. There is simply no provision for giving a President extra special powers if he wins the Presidency in a certain way. In other words: sorry righties, President Obama has just as many powers as the most ‘mandate’-a-licious President you can think of. He has just as many powers as if he had won all the voting by 99-1 ratios. That is how it works.

Of course, having an opposition party control some, or a house, or both houses of Congress can increasingly restrain a President from doing what he wants to do in various ways. Similar things could be said about the permanent bureaucracy, the military, etc. But these are entirely functions of the makeup of those other bodies, and has nothing to do with how many votes the President himself got.

There’s just no such thing as a ‘mandate’.

From the article, there does appear to be acknowledgement of this fact:

“The mandate is a myth,” said John Altman, associate professor of political science at York College of Pennsylvania. “But even if there was such a thing as a mandate, this clearly isn’t an election that would produce one.”

But wait what? The thing is a myth – doesn’t exist – but ‘if there was such a thing’ this election wouldn’t have produced one? This is the opposite of the correct lesson.

The correct lesson is that since the mandate is a myth, then surpassing the single threshold of winning the Presidency gives one just as much power/authority as doing so in (what someone suggests is a) mandatey fashion. Or I guess you could say that ‘if there was such a thing’, President Obama would have it.

There is simply no consolation to be had for righties in running around mumbling Obama ‘doesn’t have a mandate’. He has the Presidency. That’s enough.

5 Comments so far
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Aren’t you overlooking the thrust of these kinds of statements?

A mandate isn’t a Constitutional concept, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a concept at all. The idea of a mandate is that the winner has earned, through democratic consensus, the approval of the people to embark on major policy shifts.

The idea here is that if a person wins the presidency with only a slim majority of popular support, then attempting to enact radical changes to the system is not an act of good-faith. It’s a winner-takes-all, “football-spiking” approach to governance. If one doesn’t “have a mandate,” then the general idea is that one shouldn’t try to foist unwanted changes on a 49.5% “minority.”

You’re correct that you’ll never find this in the Constitution. It’s not a constitutional concept. Neither is the Golden Rule, but would you argue that one need not abide by the Golden Rule if one wins an election? That’s silly.

Comment by RPLong

I am specifically denying the reality of those claims that ‘the winner has earned, through democratic consensus’, any such thing. Actually I do not believe in the concept of ‘democratic consensus’ full stop.

Our elections are, in fact and effect, winner-takes-all, football-spikes, and people who think otherwise are only fooling themselves. If they weren’t, we would not have Obamacare. So it is better than to confront that reality than to pretend it away.

Comment by Sonic Charmer

When I read that comment, I get the impression that you have no further interest in good-faith communication between political factions.

If that’s true, then the only way you’re going to see the kind of changes you want to see is if someone exactly like you assumes the role of dictator and forces the nation into the change you want to see.

Basically, when you eliminate good faith, you pave the road to despotism. You’re entitled to that opinion, but I think it’s really short-sighted. You will certainly live to regret that choice, at least in my opinion. The way to affect positive change is to restore good faith, not to toss it out the window and ram your preferred changes down the nation’s collective throat. You’d be no better than Obama in that case. Or Bush. Or Chavez. et al.

Comment by RPLong

I do not believe the political left, by and large, acts in good faith, no. I await evidence to the contrary. But on this issue, I can only echo Matt’s comment below: ‘mandate’ talk is used by electoral winners to shove their agenda down the throats of the losers. It is a form of intellectual bullying, or at least hoodwinkery: ‘you should go along with me because I have a mandate’. What is the objective definition of ‘mandate’? Insert self serving sophistry here.

Can there be any doubt whatsoever that in an exactly symmetric electoral situation with the tables turned, the person saying this would never ‘go along’, as the ‘mandate’ logic implies? That is the definition of bad faith. In saying this, I have not ‘eliminated good faith’ but merely recognized its absence. It is a scam. People who fall for scams are called suckers.

Comment by Sonic Charmer

The mandate concept came about when newly elected presidents wished to marginalize and ignore the opposition. So Obama wants to pass Obamacare, but the Republicans aren’t letting him, but he has a mandate! and they need to shut up.

Similarly with Johnson after Goldwater and 1964…He had a mandate! (NB I think the ‘mandate’ term might not have been coined at this time) Goldwater Republicans had tried and failed to get the American people on their side and so they needed to sit down and shut up. But those kinds of landslide elections are more due to rejection of the loser than wholesale acceptance of the winner. It was Goldwater’s policy of nuclear war that sunk him, so all Johnson could rightly do with his mandate was not start a nuclear war.

Comment by Matt

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