Political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson have an excellent article, “Popular Fiction” on The New Republic website today demolishing the absurd claim that Bush’s narrow election victory constitutes some sort of mandate for his conservative economic and social policies.
Here are some excerpts from the article:
No sooner had the red and blue ink dried on the maps of election commentators than triumphant Republicans began talking about their clear mandate for an ambitious domestic agenda. The people have spoken, Republicans proclaimed, and what they have said is that they favor the conservative agenda on taxes, Social Security, health care, gay marriage, and abortion. The administration, their humble servant, has a solemn duty to execute their wishes. And so President Bush has promised to move forward with ambitious but still only vaguely outlined plans for Social Security privatization, tax simplification, and restrictions on lawsuits. “I have political capital and I intend to spend it,” he declared.
….Although many pundits are saying that Bush trounced Kerry, the election was in fact exceedingly close by historical standards. In October, the American Political Science Association released the predictions of seven leading models of presidential elections. As an incumbent president running at a time of decent economic growth, Bush’s average predicted vote was around 54 percent, meaning he significantly underperformed historical expectations.
….[E]verything we know about American opinion suggests that Bush is out of step with the public on all the issues he is now putting at the top of his “to do” list. During the election campaign, polls found that most Americans continue to be highly skeptical of the Republican tax-cut agenda and convinced that they have not benefited from it. In the final debate, Bush had to resort to the fudge of pointing out that the majority of his tax cuts went to “low- and middle-income Americans”–and while they did, the majority of benefits from his tax cuts did not.
….Against the backdrop of September 11, the Republican strategy worked well enough to gain a narrow victory. Yet winning narrowly on a campaign of mud and fear, and a strategy of hard-nosed partisan gerrymandering, does not a popular mandate for the conservative policy agenda make. Republicans like to compare the current president with Ronald Reagan. But in 1980, Reagan made clearly specified tax cuts the centerpiece of his campaign. And when he won a decisive victory, he could credibly claim a mandate to implement his pledge. That is simply not the case today.
I recommend you read the whole thing. You’ll be glad you did.