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In the fall of 1948, Harry Truman barnstormed the country by train, repeatedly bashing a “do-nothing Congress,” and so snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in that year’s presidential campaign. This year, neither presidential candidate focused on blasting a do-nothing Congress or, in Obama’s case, “Republican obstructionism,” demanding that the voters give them a legislative body that would mean an actual mandate for change.
We now know the results of such a campaign and, after all the tumult and the nation’s first $6 billion election, they couldn’t be more familiar. Only days later, you can watch a remarkably recognizable cast of characters from the reelected president and Speaker of the House John Boehner to the massed pundits of the mainstream media picking up the pages of a well-thumbed script.
Will it be bipartisanship or the fiscal cliff? Are we going to raise new revenues via tax reform or raise tax rates for the wealthiest Americans? Will the president make up with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or not? Will it be war or something less with Iran? And so on and so forth. It’s the moment the phrase déjà vu all over again was made for.
A Hell of Our Own Making
When a new Chinese dynasty came to power, it was said that it had received “the mandate of heaven.” We’ve just passed through an election campaign that, while the noisiest in memory, was enveloped in the deepest of silences on issues that truly matter for the American future. Out of it, a “mandate” has indeed been bestowed not just on Barack Obama, but on Washington, where a Republican House of Representatives, far less triumphant but no less fully in the saddle than the president, faces media reports that its moment is past, that its members are part of “the biggest loser demographic of the election,” and that its party—lacking the support of young people, single women, those with no religious affiliation, Hispanics, African Americans and Asian Americans—is heading for the trash barrel of history.
If true, that does sound like a mandate for something, sooner or later—assuming you happen to have years of demographic patience. In the meantime, there will be a lot more talk about how the Republicans need to reorient their party and about a possible “civil war” over its future. And while we’re at it, bet on one thing: we’re also going to hear a ton more talk about how much deeply unhappy Americans—the very ones who just reinstalled a government that’s asenatorial blink away from the previous version of the same—really, really want everyone to make nice and work together.