A day after the 2004 presidential voting was done, when it was finally possible to declare victory, Vice President Dick Cheney introduced a reelected President George W. Bush to the United States. But Cheney did not merely claim the win. He announced that, “President Bush ran forthrightly on a clear agenda for this nation’s future, and the nation responded by giving him a mandate.”
Even by the accepted standards of vice presidential hyperbole – which have been dramatically expanded during the Cheney interregnum – that’s a stretch. But it is a stretch that right-wing talk radio and cable television have been quick to make, with The Weekly Standard’s invariably over-the-top Bill Kristol declaring Bush’s win to be “an even larger and clearer mandate than those won in the landslide reelection campaigns of Nixon in 1972, Reagan in 1984, and Clinton in 1996.”
Kristol was, of course, wrong. There was no sense in which Bush’s mandate was even comparable with those of Nixon, Reagan or Clinton. But if Kristol’s assessement was ridiculously wrong, so too were the reviews of the result presented by much of the so-called “mainstream” media. Doyle McManus and Janet Hook of The Los Angeles Times have declared that “Bush can claim a solid mandate.” In The New York Times, David Sanger went event further, claiming that, “Mr. Bush no longer has to pretend that he possesses a clear electoral mandate. Because for the first time in his presidency, he can argue that he has the real thing.”
Truth-challenged statements are to be expected from Cheney, who continues to peddle the now entirely-discredited theory that Iraq posed a threat that necessitated the invasion and occupation of that country, and who still stands by the fiddled figures that were used to justify the administration’s fiscally fraudulent overhaul of Medicare. But no one else, not even a Bill Kristol or a David Sanger, has any excuse for calling what Bush won on Tuesday a mandate.
In the language of American politics, the term “mandate” refers to a sweeping electoral win that confers upon the victor the authority not merely to govern but to radically alter the course of the country. Few presidents get them. And George W. Bush is not one of those presidents.
Let’s get clear regarding what Bush got out of Tuesday’s election:
* He won a popular vote majority that currently stands at about 3.5 million. If that number holds, he’ll end up with a roughly 51-48 margin over Democrat John Kerry.
* He won an electoral vote majority of 286-252 (assuming that reviews of ballots in Ohio, Iowa and New Mexico leave those states in his column).
* He will govern with both a House and Senate controlled by his party. But in both chambers moderate elements of the Republican party could combine with Democrats to slow his agenda.
By comparison with most presidents elected in the past century, that is anything but a mandate.