Mandate? Whose Mandate?

Someone told me we had an election on November 6, discernibly about increasing taxes on the wealthy. And, I was told, President Obama won.

Yet, I heard some of the chatter on Morning Joe this morning regarding the negotiations over the coming austerity crisis, also known as the fiscal cliff, and guess what? It’s mostly President Obama’s fault that nothing has been accomplished so far.

The consensus appeared to be, among those around the Morning Joe table, that President Obama should be like Lincoln or Lyndon Johnson and essentially purchase House Republican votes with some kind of patronage scheme or go up to Capitol Hill and cajole Republicans in some unspecified way. All to get a deal on taxes.

Joe Scarborough mentioned that those House Republicans won their races, too, some of them with “a much,much higher percentage of the vote in their districts than the President,” and that the President should understand that,

They won as well. And so they have a mandate as well…you’d think this president, as a state legislator, would understand those dynamics, but he doesn’t.

Hmm. “They have a mandate as well.” “Understand those dynamics.” Let me get this straight: An indiscernible mandate of a congressman from, say, Southwest Missouri, is somehow on a par with a clear mandate of the newly elected President of the United States? Let’s think about that as we quickly look at my congressman, Ozark Billy Long, and how many votes he got on November 6:

Billy Long, Republican:   203,565    63.9%
Jim Evans, Democrat:      98,498    30.9%

You can see that Scarborough is right in one sense. Billy Long got a whopping 64% of the vote here in the Ozarks. That’s definitely more than the President got. But you can also see that Long got just over 200,000 votes. I wonder how many votes Barack Obama got? Oh:

popular vote totals 2012

Now, let me do some ciphering:

OBAMA:    65,355,488
LONG:            203,565

So, the President got about 65 million more votes than Ozark Billy, but in Scarborough’s world—and he was not contradicted by anyone on the set—Long has a mandate that President Obama is compelled to respect enough to go down to Long’s office and, uh, what? What is he supposed to offer Ozark Billy? A signed copy of his Hawaiian birth certificate? A free lunch at the White’s House buffet? An all-expenses-paid trip to Larry Flynt’s Holiday Poker Classic? (Billy likes to gamble.) Huh? Would any of that bring Billy Long to the light?

Mika Brzezinski, who often drowns in conversations like this one, actually piped up and said in response to Scarborough’s suggestion that Obama doesn’t understand the dynamics at play:

But what is he supposed to do with those dynamics?

Good question. And Jon Meacham, the now bestselling historian (his latest book is on Thomas Jefferson), added to Scarborough’s play for Republican respect by responding to Brzezinski:

Understand what the other guy feels like…That’s a huge part of what politics is. Henry Kissinger’s great insight: If you’re ever going to win a negotiation, if you’re ever going to have a result, you have to give the other guy a way out.

You know, he’s right. You do have to give the other guy a way out, a fig leaf, something which he can point to and say, “I got something out of the deal.” But what if what the other guy wants is totally unreasonable? What if what the other guy wants is his way or no way? What if what the other guy wants is the same thing he wanted before November 6? Before the election that saw President Obama get more than 65 million votes campaigning against what the other guy wanted?

Once again Republicans believe they are holding the country’s economic health hostage for the sake of protecting their wealthy friends, and they are trying to pretend the election on November 6 didn’t mean all that much. The problem with the political chatterers on television, most of whom are Beltway types, is that some of them respect the hostage takers more than they respect those trying to rescue the hostages.

So, sadly, Republicans are being aided in their efforts by some in the professional pundit class who are suggesting that the President is to blame for failing to satisfy the demands of the kidnappers.

Scarborough, without being challenged, looked into the camera this morning and emphatically gave the following advice to House Republicans on how to handle negotiations with President Obama:scarborough and fiscal cliff advice

If he doesn’t come to you with a deal, do-not-vote-to-raise-taxes-a-cent! Don’t do it! Don’t do it! You’ll get beaten! And Washington will spend that money and they won’t cut again and the deficit will be 18 trillion a couple of years from now.

The problem with Scarborough’s thinking, the problem with his blustery advice for Republicans, is that Mr. Obama now understands that a deal that pleases the right-wing zealots in the House of Representatives is not a deal worth making. He needs to make a deal with reasonable Republicans, if there are any left in Congress.

And if he can’t find any reasonable Republicans, if the country plunges off the cliff, falls off the curb, or waddles down the slope, however one wants to define what will happen on a deal-less January 1, the President knows that Republicans—Republicans—will get most of the blame:

fiscal cliff poll results



  1. Yellow Dog

     /  December 4, 2012

    Not to worry. The American people will make it real clear to Blow Joe if the Republicans send us over the imaginary cliff. The House Republicans are in big trouble if this happens, the people will blame them for more of the same obstruction politics.

    We voted to raise taxes on the rich and they better get busy with our business, our wishes. It just shows they’re owned by the rich.


  2. Troy

     /  December 4, 2012

    If the wealthy would have been paying their employees a good wage and quality health care, nobody’s taxes would have to go up. Joe needs to man up and tell his rich friends to ante up……


  3. If we go over the cliff, curb, slope, the Republicans will be to blame – the WP poll responders have it right. Their attitude for the past two years has been to concoct a monolithic impediment to legislative compromise, a subject on which I posted today. In effect, they forced a choice between struggling incrementally out of the recession and austerity. I’m thinking it won’t take much austerity before these people hear from their real bosses, the ones back home.


    • You got that right, Jim. Austerity, which has afflicted Europe of late, is the wrong medicine for what ails us at the moment. There will be a time when we have to cut back and tackle the long-term debt problem, but right now there is still the lingering effects of the Great Recession to deal with. By the way, the link to your excellent (and informative) blog piece is here.


  4. Treeske

     /  December 4, 2012

    The results will establish the power ( or lack of, hopefully) of the Corporate Government.


  5. middlechildwoman

     /  December 4, 2012

    I refuse to watch Joe and the gang anymore. Mica reminds me of the girls I went to high school with – she says very little of value but, wow, does she have all the little vixen looks. Joe is just a pompous blowhard. Stephanie Miller on Current makes me laugh, affirms my new liberalism and fits my later morning schedule. I appreciate all the bloggers who watch Faux “News”, listen to Rush and all the other idiots in order to truly bring me true and balanced news. Of course Rachel, Jon Stewart and Steve Colbert end my evenings in a very satisfactory way. Thanks to all of you for your sacrifices.


    • Middle, you might be undergoing a political transformation similar to my own. It was not until I retired and started blogging that I really engaged with politics. In a busy working life like most people have there simply isn’t much time or energy left over for calm and patient reflection on such things, and it’s easy to surrender the hard work to talking heads who always sound ever so certain about all these things. Thanks to you for making the effort.


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