Ben Buchwalter

November 5, 2008, 5:24 pm
Filed under: 2008 Election, Barack Obama, General Politics | Tags: , ,

The big question of the day is whether Barack Obama’s win and the widening Democratic majority in Congress indicates a progressive mandate. Remember that President Bush declared his 2004 win (with 286 electoral votes and a smaller popular vote) a mandate for his agenda. But the United States is generally considered a center-right country. So his agenda was already more appealing to many Americans than Obama’s might be.

If the country truly remains more conservative than liberal, then Barack Obama will only hurt the Democrats in 2010 and 2012 if he governs aggressively as a liberal. But look at the election we just had. John McCain’s main argument against Barack Obama was that he was the most liberal Senator and some of his policies were socialist. And Obama won by one of the largest margins in the past half-century. So it looks like the country might be susceptible for a push towards the left.

John Judis of The New Republic writes today that the United States has, in fact, been moving left in the past fifty years. The size of each of the Democrats’ largest voting blocs, college-educated professionals, minorities, and women, is increasing, showing that there are simply more Democrats than there used to be. That could suggest that we are at the beginning of a long-term Democratic majority, both in the White House and in Congress. Judis points out more faults in thinking of the United States simply as a center-right nation:

These guys–and the others who are counseling Barack Obama and the Democrats to “go slow”–couldn’t be more wrong. They are looking at Obama’s election through the prism of Jimmy Carter’s win in 1976 and Bill Clinton’s victory in 1992. Both Carter and Clinton did misjudge the mood of the country. They tried unsuccessfully to govern a country from the center-left that was moving to the right (in Carter’s case) or that was only just beginning to move leftward (in Clinton’s case), and were rebuked by the voters. But Obama is taking office under dramatically different circumstances. His election is the culmination of a Democratic realignment that began in the ’90s, was held in abeyance by September 11, and had resumed in the 2006 election.

But these things just go in cycles. Last night, the conservative CNN commentator Alex Castellanos spoke about how the Republicans swept into Washington in 1994 hoping to change the system. Instead of changing it, they began to embody Washington. That is why they were purged in 2006 and 2008. The same thing could happen to the Democrats in eight, twelve, or (fingers crossed) sixteen years.

All in all, I think last night was certainly a mandate. The Democrats have trounced Republicans in each of the last elections. And Barack Obama got elected saying that he would vastly expand health care, perpetuate the graduated tax system, and end the war in Iraq. The American people should expect that from him.


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