For Obama, Vindication, But Not A Mandate

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Winning matters. Having earned a second term, President Obama will attempt to build on and expand the agenda from his first, launching new initiatives on tax policy, education and immigration.

But having won the popular vote by a bare majority — and still facing a divided Congress — Obama may find it difficult to gather momentum for his policies.

Despite the close result in the popular vote nationwide, Obama wasted no time claiming vindication for his ideas. In his victory speech early Wednesday in Chicago, he tied his re-election to two centuries of American progress.

His speech was light on policy specifics, but he touched on several priorities including deficit reduction, overhaul of the tax code, immigration and energy independence.

"Tonight, you voted for action, not politics as usual," he said.

Obama will not view a Republican Party that held on to its majority as something he needs to accommodate, but rather something he needs to work around, says Henry Olsen, vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

"He's going to say, 'They threw the kitchen sink at me and they couldn't take me out and they couldn't take the Senate,' " Olsen says.

Any president gains a boost from re-election. Obama may also be helped by an improving economy. The International Monetary Fund projected last month the U.S. will enjoy the most growth of any rich nation over the next couple of years.

Obama will also hold the whip hand in his initial negotiations with Congress, because of the so-called fiscal cliff. Any deal to avoid painful tax increases and spending cuts will require the president's signature.

"I'm confident that he and the Senate Democrats will continue to insist that part of a deal is the expiration of the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent [of earners]," says Jared Bernstein, who has been an economic adviser in the Obama White House. "Everyone agrees on the other 98 percent."

In addition, Bernstein notes, Obama now has the chance to solidify two of the major achievements of his first term — the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank banking regulations. The president also has made it clear he wants to move major legislation regarding immigration.

"A lot of the time, newly elected and re-elected presidents get more than you think they could," Bernstein says.

But on those issues — as well as many others — Obama cannot count on help from Republicans in Congress. The president's desires will clearly do much to shape the national agenda over the coming years, but his narrow win suggests that there is a lack of consensus for his policies.

"You have to ask the question why it would be any different than the last two years," says Alan Cobb, vice president of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group. "It's stalemate for another four years, isn't it?"

Stephen Hess, an expert on the presidency at the Brookings Institution, a center-left think tank, agreed that was possible. "There really are some basic splits between the two parties that each represent half the country."

Obama, in fact, appears, like his predecessor, to have been more of a divider than a uniter. He certainly has not ushered in a post-partisan era of good feelings, as some of his supporters thought possible four years ago.

Despite hopes that his historic stature as the nation's first African-American president would lead to a "post-racial period," Tuesday's election was largely divided along racial and ethnic lines.

A big majority of white voters supported his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, while Obama won even bigger margins among Hispanic and African-American voters.

Obama's presidency has also done nothing, as yet, to alleviate the nation's partisan divide. Republicans will no longer be seeking to deprive Obama of a second term, but there's no indication that they have warmed to his policy ambitions.

"Obama will have a hard time making his case where it counts, on Capitol Hill," says Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in California.

Just as Obama may feel vindicated by victory, so, too, will House Republicans, Pitney says. They managed to hold on to their majority, surviving campaign attacks from Democrats over Medicare and other issues.

With Democrats in the minority in the House and far short, despite their Senate victories, of holding the 60 votes needed to shut off filibusters, governing the country will be difficult, predicts Rick Perlstein, a liberal journalist and historian.

"Ultimately, it [ends] Barack Obama's grand dream of elevating the discourse and the lion laying down with the lamb," Perlstein says.

Obama is now just the third president in U.S. history to have been re-elected with a smaller share of the vote than during his initial election. The other two were Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose winning percentage ticked down in both 1940 and 1944, and Andrew Jackson, who took less of the popular vote in 1832.

Still, the diminished confidence of voters didn't stop FDR from prosecuting World War II or Jackson paying off the national debt and helping to establish the primacy of the federal government over the states.

Obama in a second term will find plenty to keep himself busy for "more than eight hours a day," says presidential historian Robert Dallek, quoting John F. Kennedy.

"You have a second-term president who doesn't have control of Congress," Dallek says. "He's probably going to do a lot more foreign policy, because that's where they have running room."

Despite the status quo nature of the election results, with partisan control of the White House, Senate and House all remaining unchanged, Obama supporters are hopeful in the wake of his win that he can indeed make good on his campaign slogan and move the country "forward."

The line of people waiting to vote Tuesday morning at Foundry Methodist United Church in Washington, D.C., stretched for nearly a block outside along P Street. Many said they wanted to show their support for Obama, despite near-freezing temperatures and the certainty he would take roughly 90 percent of the District of Columbia vote.

Several people said they wanted to give a boost to his national popular vote total. "I hope he not only wins in the Electoral College but wins a popular vote mandate," said Sara Schapiro, who works at an education policy think tank.

In his victory speech, Obama offered a largely communitarian vision of shared values and destinies of individuals in the country.

Still, he recognized that the election will not put controversy and "sometimes fierce" disagreement to rest. "That won't change after tonight," he said, "and it shouldn't."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit

Source: NPR


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Comments [12]

marie-louise from White Plains, NY

In my opinion, it certainly was a 'mandate' because we won swing states even with unprecidented manipulations by the GOP to deny voters their right to vote or make it so uncomfortable for them that they would give up and go home, and they did not. The 1% spent billions not helping the poor, not hiring anyone or trickling down to anybody but for favors they expected to get from the GOP. They had the Supreme Court create a way for them to buy our elections with Citizens United even with money flooding in from overseas outsourcing nations, they had a 24/7 network of highly paid (and union I might add) liars (FOX) working day and night for them to brainwash Americans into voting against their best interests and they still lost! Our nation has never been up against such blatant corruption and still we denied them. No President has ever been so disgustingly and racially attacked and still won. The GOP even called/s out for civil unrest and race wars and still lost. This is a huge win because Romney's votes were votes based on hiding his past on all levels and on terrific lies and scare tactics. Yes, it was most definately a mandate. They could not win with merit so they lied, cheated, attempted to steal and buy our election and our democracy. They are still trying to divide with race today claiming that no white Americans voted for the President when literally millions and millions did, including my family!

Nov. 08 2012 01:40 AM
Paul J. Bosco from Manhattan

I don't expect a flowering of bi-partisanship is in the offing.

Worst-case scenario: Obama caves to the Republicans, giving them 2/3 of a loaf to get 1/3 for himself.

Best case? Retaking the House in 2014 and limiting the GOP to 42 seats in the Senate. After the GOP Senators filibuster everything during 2015-16, the public finally elects a filibuster-proof majority in 2016, along with a new Dem POTUS. (Hillary?)

Alternatively, in 2015 the Dems in the Senate could junk the filibuster rule, which seems as hoary and useless as the Electoral College.

I think some Dems, like Bill Clinton and Harry Reid, will take a fight to a bully, but will that kind of attitude rule their Party??

Personally, I'm expecting four more years of disappointment and pain. Eventually blacks, Hispanics, Asians & Muslims will be 30% of the electorate, the old racists will have died off and an age of political enlightenment will descend upon us --until those groups get rich enough that they think they're supposed to be Republicans.

--Paul J. Bosco

Nov. 07 2012 08:07 PM
Maria from Brooklyn

Sorry, meant *fewer electoral votes.

Nov. 07 2012 07:29 PM
Maria from Brooklyn

When Bush was re-elected in 2004 with few electoral votes, the media repeated Cheney's assertion that Bush had a "mandate" to push his agenda. Why is Obama's re-election now described as "tight" and seen more skeptically?

Nov. 07 2012 07:22 PM
NABNYC from SoCal

National government is not really a competition between two teams -- Dems and Repubs -- but instead is a national decision about which coalition will govern. The democratic coalition won. Why the sudden suggestion that the democratic coalition is not legitimate? Because the majority of white people didn't vote for Obama? Turns out, that didn't matter because 40% of white people voted for him, along with huge majorities of blacks, hispanics, gay and lesbian, and particularly young people. We won, and the old white people in states like Montana, Idaho and Wyoming are just bad losers, trying to suggest the win was not legitimate or significant.

George W. Bush won reelection in 2004 with only 286 electoral votes, and Obama already has 303, and may get another 29 from Florida. Obama's re-election is huge compared to slim squeaker by which Bush held on.

Yet when Bush won in 2004, he claimed that he had lots of political capital and he was going to use it. So why doesn't Obama have lots of political capital?

The coalition needs to get organized around more than just elections. We need the 40% of the white people who are liberal, the liberal blacks, hispanics, gays, environmentalists, labor, people fighting for education, for children, for seniors, all those people need to get organized and get active in local organizations and push for our own priorities. It's not Obama against Congress. It's the majority of the country against Congress. If the Republican continue to obstruct, we need to go pay them a visit.

Nov. 07 2012 06:46 PM

Funny, the last President lost the popular vote, but spoke of having the mandate. Enough to start 2 wars, drain the treasury, and transfer wealth to his cronies.

Nov. 07 2012 01:05 PM
tom LI

Mandate schmandate! Time for the Dems to take another page from the Republican playbook and LEAD and Loudly! We won! Now play like winners! And stop reacting to the GOP noise makers, and LEAD!

And the Democratic machine has to play like the GOP and not close up shop because they won. They have to keep the focus on a strong resistance to the GOP social issue machine! The Koch Bros and others like them are not going to stop now! They will push harder, and the Dems have to learn to push the bully back.

Nov. 07 2012 01:05 PM
DK from Bklyn from Brooklyn

I don't buy the "no mandate" tag for a second, sorry. He won a clear electoral victory and a growing, as the votes are counted, popular victory. If he were a Republican, he would not hesitate to seize the initiative and push his agenda.

Nov. 07 2012 12:49 PM

Re mandate, does it matter one way or the other? He, the Congress, and we have a job to do to help advance this country. I think that was an important part of the president's message.
Re "His speech was light on policy specifics" - how does the president's speech compare on this matter relative to the first speech after election and re-election given by other presidents? I suspect that the presence of policy specifics isn't common in these speeches either.

Nov. 07 2012 11:39 AM
kikakiki from wall street

Not a mandate he won 7 of the 9 swing states what would constitute a mandate winning the moon vote

Nov. 07 2012 10:53 AM

What will ever constitute a mandate as long as the kind of Republicans we have now are almost half the electorate?

Nov. 07 2012 10:47 AM
jb from Brooklyn

Winning is winning. If you don;t have the minerals, you shouldn't be in politics.

Nov. 07 2012 10:27 AM

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