Note to wingnut pundits

McCain said Obama was a socialist.
Obama won convincingly.
What do you mean, “center-right majority”?

Your candidate called our candidate a socialist. None of you pointed out that your candidate was full of it. Our candidate won convincingly.

You can’t come back now and announce that he country is still “center-right” and that the winner has no madate for progressive policy.

Well, you can. But only because you have no intellectual integrity or self-respect.

Update Megan McArdle responds, making three points:

1. If the country isn’t conservative, why did it vote for Bush four years ago?

2. If that wasn’t a mandate, why is this a mandate?

3. Congressional approval ratings have been low, and Congress is full of Democrats, so voters must not like Democrats much, and after three months they will notice that.

First things first. The point of this post was a narrow one: that people who claimed that Obama’s platform was “socialism” can’t now consistently claim that the people who elected him on that platform are actually center-right. One or both of those claims must be false. In my view, both are false. But at least one of them must be.

But on Megan’s point:

1. Stuff happens in four years. Some of it is transient stuff that might un-happen later. I don’t think the free-enterprise-is-great-government-is-evil consensus that dominated American politics from 1980 on is coming back, but I could be wrong about that. But some of the change is structural rather than transient. (A) The population is getting less English-surname white, and all the non-white populations and those with Spanish surnames vote Democratic. That might change, but over decades, not years. (B) Every year, some voters die, most of them elderly, and a new cohort becomes eligible to vote. The under-30s voted 2-to-1 Democratic (partly because they’re more diverse ethnically), while the over-65s gave the Republicans a small edge. Using 80 as the life expectancy and assuming a steady state for simplicity gives us a turnover rate of about 5% per four-year election cycle. Assuming, conservatively, an even partisan split among those leaving the voting population and a 65-35 tilt toward the Democrats among those entering the voting population would mean that every cycle there’s a net Democratic swing of a point and a half. So Republicans will have a steeper and steeper hill to climb unless they can figure out a way of appealing to the non-white, non-English-surname, and non-old, which would mean an end to Republicanism as we have known it.

2. GWB, running on a platform of Swiftboating and gay-baiting, beat Kerry by 2.4 percentage points. BHO, running on a platform of universal access to health coverage, universal access to a college education, shifting the tax burden from the middle class to the rich and making better provision for the poor, beat McCain by between 6 and 7 percentage points. Those are two big differences that make it possible to say that Obama has a mandate for health care while Bush didn’t have a mandate for much of anything.

3. Congressional ratings have been low because the Republicans were able to use the filibuster and the veto to keep Congress from accomplishing anything. Megan is right to say that if the Congress keeps not accomplishing anything, voters will blame the Democrats. But Congressional Democrats can figure that out. The Hill barons of 1993 thought their own positions were impregnable and that they were therefore in a position to teach that fresh punk from Arkansas. The 1994 elections proved that they were wrong. Their present-day successors are unlikely to repeat their mistake. Moreover, Obama’s political organization gives him leverage vis-à-vis individual Representatives and Senators, which he can use to strengthen the hands of the Speaker and Senate Majority Leader. Also, we’re in a “crisis,” which Richard Neustadt used to define as “a moment at which it’s possible to do something.” The “It costs too much” objection to any new program can be met with the response “We need it for stimulus.” Tax increaes (or the equivalent in the form of a cap-and-trade-with-auction) can be scheduled for the future as sop to the gods of fiscal responsibility.

Could Obama and the Democrats screw this up? Sure. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: