Politicians win elections, they don’t win mandates.
If there’s one thing you should ignore in all those analysis pieces being published today, it’s the idea that some kind of “mandate” was created by yesterday’s elections. The reason for this is pretty simple, there’s just no way that the collective voting choices of tens of millions of Americans add up to some sort of logical national will. Rather people voted, or stayed home which can influence elections just the same, for all sorts of reasons. The collective sum of those reasons will never turn out to be an easily identifiable narrative of what politicians are now “supposed” to do.
This of course doesn’t just apply to the 2014 midterms, in actuality it applies to every election. When voters elected Barack Obama in a historic landslide back in 2008 some may have been voting for him because they wanted a major overhaul of our health care system, but others were voting for him because they were mad at Bush, or hated the Iraq War, or wanted abortion to stay legal, or because they thought he was a cool guy, or any number of a thousand other reasons. The end result of all these actions was the historic election of Barack Obama, but in no way shape or form did the American electorate join together as one big hive mind and make a collective decision on Election Day 2008, even if that’s how the media likes to portray these sorts of things.
Don’t get me wrong, one of the consequences of the 2008 election was a historic overhaul of the healthcare system, but the reason this happened was because Democrats gained control of the White House and Congress and had been pushing for such an overhaul for 60 odd years. It did not happen because of some sort of “mandate.”
Likewise one of the consequences of the 1980 election was an American foreign policy that involved funding for large scale proxy wars in Latin America that killed tens of thousands of civilians. But when the American people elected Ronald Reagan they weren’t giving him and Jeane Kirkpatrick a mandate for that. Instead they were voting for Reagan because Carter wasn’t a good president and the economy was in the dumps in the late 70’s.
So by all means feel free to read the political postmortems that are rolling out today. And especially pay attention to all the new folks who will be involved in our self-governing project. But ignore all the chatter you hear about mandates. This isn’t ancient China, this is America and the collective choices of American voters don’t necessarily adhere to any sort of divine plan.
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