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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Majority makes Might, Mandate makes Right

Much debate is going on over whether Mr. Obama's victory last Tuesday represents a "mandate" for his agenda or dissatisfaction with the Republican party's performance the last 7 and 3/4 years. The answer, probably, is a little bit of both, and the question settles on which characterization is most accurate.

Evidence of a mandate is found in Mr. Obama's garnering of about 53% of the popular vote and a large number of electoral college votes. Additionally, this map, which a friend has referred to me, suggests an even broader mandate, depending on how one interprets it. Further, circumstantial, evidence rests with the fact that Mr. Obama was quite clear about the tax plans he hopes to implement and about his health care plan. Presumably, anyone who voted for him (or against him) knew where he stood on these issues, and his victory represents approvals of his priorities.

Evidence of the "dissatisfaction with the Republicans" thesis rests in the lower than expected number of new House seats for the Democrats and the Democrats apparent failure to gain a "filibuster proof" majority in the Senate (although I suspect that even 60 Democratic seats in the Senate is only "filibuster proof" to the extent that these Senators can remain united). As for the claim that people knew who they were voting for, it is quite apparent that Mr. Obama will have much difficulty in enacting his domestic programs, and his foreign policy will probably (by my prediction) more closely resemble Mr. Bush's than one might have thought listening to Mr. Obama's campaign rhetoric.

Whether the victory is or is not a mandate, however, we must guard against the claim that rightness comes from majoritarianism: simply 53%, or 63%, or 93%, is not enough to prove that the "mandate" (if mandate it be) is the correct way to run the country.

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