Victory hug, election night 2012
President Obama’s decisive re-election victory Tuesday — 303 electoral votes to Mitt Romney’s 206, plus a definite popular-vote majority — clearly indicates a mandate to continue grappling with the country’s problems on his terms.
A clear mandate to most, perhaps, but not to congressional Republicans, even though in aggregate their House and Senate candidates won fewer votes than Democrats and lost several seats.
That disconnect about what the election outcome means seems likely to pit Republicans’ same ol’, same ol’ against a president now more intent on producing results than peace and light in Washington, D.C.
No sooner had the dust cleared — no doubt with a legion of chagrined millionaire and billionaire GOP sugar daddies kicking themselves in the background — than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, started making noises about their requirements for a budget and deficit-reduction deal.
Far from changing their tune following defeat of their no-cooperation strategy to make Obama a one-term president, Beavis and Butthead’s Republican analogs chimed in with an old refrain. From McConnell’s version:
The voters have not endorsed the failures or excesses of the President’s first term, they have simply given him more time to finish the job they asked him to do together with a Congress that restored balance to Washington after two years of one-party control. Now it’s time for the President to propose solutions that actually have a chance of passing the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and a closely-divided Senate, step up to the plate on the challenges of the moment, and deliver in a way that he did not in his first four years in office.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
To the extent he wants to move to the political center, which is where the work gets done in a divided government, we’ll be there to meet him half way. That begins by proposing a way for both parties to work together in avoiding the ‘fiscal cliff’ without harming a weak and fragile economy, and when that is behind us work with us to reform the tax code and our broken entitlement system.
Translation: First, to get us to deal with him at all, Obama must drop his silly idea of raising taxes on the rich (us and our benefactors) and settle for closing a few (purposely unspecified) loopholes (of our choosing). Second, to get us to actually vote for this compromise, Obama must let us have our way with entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, food stamps and extended jobless benefits (bye-bye social safety net).
In other words, Republican congressional leaders expect Obama to adopt the unacceptable, nonsensical plan their failed presidential candidate ran on.
These same Republican leaders got by with their “our way or no way” approach the first two and a half years of Obama’s presidency, thanks to his strong desire to bridge the partisan divide. However, the more accommodating Obama was, the more recalcitrant McConnell and Boehner became. But after Republicans held raising the debt ceiling hostage in the summer of 2011, causing the first credit rating downgrade in U.S. history, Obama had enough.
So now, with re-election political capital in hand, things are different. If this AP story is an accurate indication, Obama has traded in his olive branches for a small carrot and a sharp stick.
Obama adviser David Axelrod warned Republican leaders to take lessons from Tuesday’s vote. The president won after pledging to raise taxes on American households earning more than $250,000 a year “and was re-elected in a significant way,” Axelrod told MSNBC Thursday morning.
“Hopefully people will read those results and read them as a vote for cooperation and will come to the table,” Axelrod said. “And obviously everyone’s going to have to come with an open mind to these discussions. But if the attitude is that nothing happened on Tuesday, that would be unfortunate.”
He noted that conservative Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock in Indiana dismissed the value of compromise and instead said Democrats should join the GOP. “And I note that he’s not on his way to the United States Senate,” Axelrod said. Mourdock lost to Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly.
You may recall that after winning his party’s nomination last spring, Mourdock said he didn’t get into politics to compromise, that his idea of the way to get somewhere is for Democrats to come around to his way of thinking — as candid an expression of Republican politicians’ attitude over the past 35 years as we’ve ever heard.
President Obama has a large constituency of people who believe he’s doing a good job in adverse economic and political circumstances. They stood by him during trying days in his first term. They accepted, with varying degrees of discomfort, some of his decisions that were out of step with what he led them to believe in 2008. They came through for him in the 2012 election.
Through it all, Obama suffered declines in supporter enthusiasm only when he appeared too willing to give in to Republican belligerence.
The stakes going forward are monumental. Appeasement only encourages Republican bullying and yet more-outrageous demands.
Obama isn’t one to face down opponents or take it to the people to pressure Republicans into doing the right thing. His preference has always been polite, serious discussion leading to reasonable compromise.
As admirable as Obama’s instincts and preferences are, he should remember he didn’t win election and re-election by talking softly and waving a white flag.
Getting a fair, balanced budget and deficit-reduction deal that won’t throw economic recovery into reverse, lay waste to programs millions of nonwealthy Americans depend on and leave the president looking like a patsy means he must win an even tougher fight.
If Obama is fired up and ready to go all out, we’re confident he can, and will, prevail again. And again, the people will be with him.