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The elusive mandate

Christie Pesavento | Monday, November 10, 2008

With hyper-liberal Senator Barack Obama ascending to the presidency, in conjunction with a near filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and a clear majority in the House, Democrats can now relish in a victory that affirms the principles they hold most dear: bigger government, spineless foreign policy, and increased spending on ineffective social programs.

In the deeply profound words of Bob the Builder, “Yes we can!”

Or can they?

In the back of their collective mind, there remains the stubborn fact that Obama managed to clinch the election on November 4th largely by riding a wave of personal popularity and widespread resentment toward the previous administration. He campaigned, not as a Democrat, but as a symbol of a new, bipartisan era that transcends the petty political bickering of the past. And although his electoral and popular vote victories were decisive, the question of what his election means for the direction of his presidency has yet to be answered.

If we attempt to look to Obama’s campaign for some clues, we are left just as mystified. His call to arms can be summed up in a single word: change. But let’s face it, when vying for the presidency when the approval rating of the outgoing incumbent from the opposite party has flat-lined around 28 percent, the campaign script was practically written for him. All any Democratic nominee had to do was avoid any fatal missteps and the election would be gift-wrapped and delivered directly into his or her hands.

Add a touch of inspirational narrative, a pinch of promises to transcend partisan bickering, and a dash of moving rhetoric about hope, and you’ve got a recipe for a messianic leader, complete with a loyal following of hero-worshippers and a press that caters to his every whim.

But the term “change” does not imply any concrete policy initiatives or solutions to the problems our nation now faces. When Obama declares, “the change we need is coming,” what he has in mind may not coincide with what many in this country believe should be done. His campaign was built upon a message that resonated with voters precisely because it was so vague.

The truth remains that the majority of Americans are not on the same page as Obama when it comes to governing philosophy. This fact becomes evident when one looks back to some of his own campaign rhetoric, which seems at times to embrace much of the traditional Republican Party platform. For example, instead of standing behind his preferred Marxist aspirations of “spreading the wealth around,” he chose to market his income redistribution program as a “tax cut.” Don’t believe me? Then try explaining how he plans to cut taxes for 95% of working families when a third of them don’t pay income taxes, yet will receive a government check if his plan is implemented.

He also insists that he will go through the federal budget “line by line” and eliminate every ineffective program to cut spending (considering the fact that appropriations bills contain tens of thousands of pages, this would be an enormous feat in and of itself). Balanced budgets have traditionally been associated with fiscal conservatism, a philosophy that Obama, who sponsored or cosponsored 144 bills that would have increased federal spending by $75 billion annually and proposed $292.954 billion in new spending during the campaign, hardly favors. Unless he deems national defense, the only policy area in which Obama seems to support spending cuts, an ineffective program that should be abolished, he is going to have a very difficult time achieving the “net spending cuts” he promised to achieve during the third debate.

Now I understand that Obama is no conservative; in fact, according to the National Journal’s 27th annual vote ratings, Obama was hands-down the most liberal member of the Senate in 2007. But the language he has used to pander to voters indicates the necessity of appealing to their center-right tendencies.

Perhaps in addition to acquiring more votes, Obama was hoping to gain favor with conservatives so that they will go along with his leftist agenda as president. He has already begun to set the bipartisan tone for his administration during his victory speech by insisting that we “resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.” Just days later, he appointed Rahm Emanuel; former Clinton advisor, Freddie Mac board member from 2000 to 2001, and notoriously foul-mouthed partisan hack; to the position of chief of staff.

A wide gap exists between Obama’s claims to champion bipartisanship and his actions. Unfortunately, he has convinced most Americans that he will lead in a manner that transcends the partisan divide, which does not give him the authority to implement the radical agenda he managed to de-emphasize during the campaign. It seems that his definition of bipartisan involves building support for liberal policies among moderates instead of trying to compromise with the opposing party by presenting his plans with a deceptive twist.

History has not been kind to presidents who overstep their authority. If Obama interprets his win as an overwhelming mandate for liberalism and aggressively attempts to reconstruct the government in this manner, he risks losing much of his popular support, along with any chance to make the change he promised a reality.

Christie Pesavento is a Political Science major, and can be reached at cpesaven@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necesarily those of The Observer.