The 2012 Election: A Message, Not a Mandate

It's been awhile since I've thrown anything up on the ole TCTW page.  Blogging is an incredibly time and resource intensive enterprise and my hat's off to those on ChicagoNow who've managed to be consistently excellent at it.  But, I have to find the time for this topic because I've had entirely too many conversations to not go into it at some point. Plus, no matter what else is going on in life I'm a writer damnit!  And a writer who's not writing is a sad little tulip indeed.

There's been a fair amount of taunting on the Democratic side since President Barack Obama's successful bid for re-election; to the point that there has even been talk that the form of the win translates to some kind of mandate given for the President in his second term.  Achy Obejas, one of my favorite writers over at WBEZ posted an article yesterday "7 Takeaways from the Election", and it (along with a brief twitter exchange) got me thinking about what exactly America was saying in this election.

Sure, it's possible that President Obama's re-election included a mandate of some sort.  But any mandate the country gave was to the edges of both parties,  not to President Obama himself.  In the election of 2012 the American people sent 3 clear messages to Washington, DC:

To the White House, "Carry on, Mr. President."

To the Senate, "You do not have our permission to even consider impeachment."

And most importantly to the Republican House of Representatives, "Work with this President or face electoral extinction."

Let's look at how we got to this point.

If there was a mandate given to this President, clearly it was provided to him in 2008 and rescinded in 2010.  President Obama was sent to Washington with majorities in both houses of Congress (I know, I know that included some Blue Dogs, just stay with me here) and with clear directives to fix the economy, pass healthcare reform that was a century overdue, and generally undo as much of the Bush years as humanly possible.

As of 2010, the Obama administration had spent a lot of money on a still sputtering economy, grandfathered in many of the Bush-era security practices that drove both liberals and libertarians to a frothing, white-hot rage, and passed a historic but controversial health care program that did not meet the satisfaction of the right, the left or even the President himself; who, as you'll recall, campaigned against an individual mandate.

So, in 2010 America put the brakes on one-party rule.  America did this by sending the most obstructionist Congress in a generation to stall any further overreach.  And stall they did.  But, the unintended consequence of that cohort was to increase an already historically bitter partisan divide.  They exposed the country to the reckless tactics of brinksmanship entirely at the expense of statesmanship, and  allowed conservatives to begin plotting some massive overreach of their own with a successful 2012.

The 2010 tea-party Congressional wave was hired by the American people on a short-term contract to perform one clear task: stop the spending.  But with a different interpretation of 2010, an over-confident right-wing took to the social offensive in 2012.  They  forgot that their opponents, the President and his team,  are from Chicago.  And Chicago is a town that knows how to play defense.  Ultimately the Obama campaign strategy that defined Mitt Romney before he even got out of the Republican primary and then built an insurmountable midwestern edifice was enough to give Barack Obama the most successful Democratic second-term candidacy since FDR.

But to say now, in the aftermath that the Obama campaign's magnificent execution of the most clinically precise electoral strategy the country has ever seen translates to a blank check for the President and Democrats to return to the "our way or the highway" approach that got them burned in 2010 is a delusion of the most starry-eyed liberals that we just can't afford.  And I must remind my brothers and sisters on the left that it's not even numerically feasible.  Drinking that spiked kool-aid again will lead to exactly the same hangover it led to before.

There are pitfalls in the opposition.  This Congress can still choose to remain obstructionist since most of the President's staunchest opponents are not only in the Republican majority, but also reside in the relatively safe red districts they drew for themselves.  Should their madness continue, should the fever not break, should they actually be willing to forfeit the White House and possibly the Senate for a generation so the Republican party can triple-down on insane policy stances that seal their fate demographically, they can still choose to make the possible into the impossible, and grind the legislative process into pumice as they do so.

The majority of Americans have forgiven the President for the mistakes he made in whichever part of his first two years they found personally objectionable.  The country rejected the wild-eyed backlash of the Romney candidacy and the Pandora's box that a Romney presidency would have opened.  The docket this term is artificially long due to all the problems that have been kicked down the road for years that we now must face - the fiscal cliff, energy, climate change,  immigration reform, a draw-down in Afghanistan, and what I believe will be President Obama's choice for his presidential legacy - education reform.

Even so, the 2012 result was not a point-by-point embrace of President Obama's various policy prescriptions.  It was a vindication of President Obama's stubborn insistence that the country find a way to meet him in the middle.  And, as his McCormick Place victory speech on Tuesday night hearkens back to the refrains of his clarion call for unity and moderation at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, make no mistake that the middle is exactly where he intends to lead.  If legislators on both the left and the right can find it in themselves to follow him there - and thereby avoid a clusterfuck for the ages in 2014 - then maybe, just maybe we can finally see a little productive cooperation return to Washington.



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