What’s good for the goose….

Some CNN commentators said tonight President Obama’s mandate is extremely weak due to the popular vote outcome being close. They say therefore he should have policies that move to the right. James Carville responded (summarized) that it’s called an election for a reason. How about that.

Author: Miriam Laugesen

Miriam J. Laugesen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Policy at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. Much of her research is focused on the design and politics of physician payment policy within Medicare. Twitter:miriamlaugesen@

36 thoughts on “What’s good for the goose….”

  1. Sort of silly to think that the popular vote means much of anything when each campaign is optimizing its GOTV game for an electoral victory. If people were playing for the popular vote, the popular vote would be completely different. But counterfactual thinking isn’t a strong suit among the pundit class.

      1. Au contraire, they’re quite adept at thinking up bullshit. Their “bullshit thinking” ability is exceptional.

  2. Obama should come out tomorrow as if he’d won 100% of the popular vote and not let up for the next 4 years. But he won’t. I cry.

    1. I’m not so sure. Team Obama plays to win, not impress, electorally or policy-wise. They’ve learned a lot – a LOT – and I suspect – make that strongly suspect – that Team Blue is going to lay some pipe the next four years. Is it just me, or was this a pretty good election for real progressives? I mean, besides all the hand-wringing about the loss of “centrists” and “moderates” (and weren’t those folks mostly center-right at best)? Is it not time for a little push back to the left? Or at least to reality based governance, to functionally put the big Regan lie in it’s grave? We have Warren AND Sanders in the Senate now, with Baldwin and a seemingly energized Reid. Obama has no more elections to win – does he unpack the brass and kick some a**? I suspect yes. For one thing, I predict we’re gonna see strong and decisive movement on climate change. Just a hunch. And yes, I think Obama will throw some swagger, but unlike Bush it’ll be low key and instrumental. No evidence here other than four years of observation, but I’ll be very surprised if we don’t see something along these lines.

      1. This was a fantastic election for progressives. Alan Grayson and Elizabeth Warren are in (and Allen West is out.) Sure, the GOP may hold the House, but I hope we all now focus our political attention on winning those small-bore raced and decimate their control of that body two years from now.

      2. It would be awfully nice to see Obama kicking ass for a change, but I suspect the deciding factor will be the makeup of Congress. Anyone know what the balance there has come to after this election? If we still have too many Republicans, they’ll continue to drag their feet and obstruct anything they can.

    2. Oh yeah, because he did so little in his first four years, when it would have been so straightforward to get so much done.

  3. According to Nate Silver (one big winner in this election), Obama should pull ahead in the coming days as mail-in votes on the west coast, which “conduct much of their voting by mail”, are tallied up.

  4. Good on James Carville.

    But to the likes of smarmy little Karl Rove, no election is a real election unless it elects a Republican. (See his little hissy fit on Fox News tonight.) A natural implication of that premise is something I have noticed over the years: the GOP is willing to FOOL people into voting Republican. A decent political party believes its ideas and policies are so popular that a broad and broadly-informed electorate will naturally give them the majority. A not-decent party, like the post-Gerald-Ford GOP, knows it will lose elections unless it successfully disguises its own policies, misrepresents the opposition’s policies, and restricts voting opportunities for demographic groups that lean against it. The modern GOP is the political equivalent of the man who wants a pilot’s license so badly that he’s willing to cheat on the exam to get it: sure, he can “win”, but does he really want to fly the plane afterwards?

    Obama won his second term. The Dems kept the Senate. The teabaggers still own the House, but at least Alan Grayson is back to give them the hell they deserve. And Karl Rove’s billionaire funders are out some money. So it’s almost all good.


    1. Has Karl Rove ever felt as small and meaningless to our lives as he does right now. The guy should retire to an Arizona gate community and leave the rest of us the fuck alone.

        1. That would be too good for him. Mitt Romney’s garage is probably bigger than most people’s houses.

  5. I take it that these same people were saying in 2000 that Dubya’s mandate was tenuous, so he should make some big concessions to the left.


  6. When the GOP talking heads were bathering, it was not clear if Obama would win the popular vote.

    Carvile did shut them up, though.

    But I thought Van Jones had the quote of the night on CNN: “This is not just Republican failure. This is a new coalition of youth, women and minorities, who have a vision for the country. Barack Obama is their leader, and they want to govern.”

    Hope it’s true. The Democrats need to build on that coalition to win back the House and push again to win the Presidency in 2016.

    Another quote from Carville: “Republicans need to find a Bill Clinton and get rid of the talk radio, in-your-face image” Chris Christie could be that man.

  7. There are no good reasons why Obama, having won both the electoral and popular votes, should move to the party that has won the popular vote only once in the past six presidential elections. (I mean yeah, he has to work with the Republicans in Congress, but that is a different issue.)
    Is there any other democratic country where that has been this lopsided?

  8. Right now, Obama is ahead by 3 million votes and growing. How is this a “close” popular vote?

    He has a mandate, not only because he won, but because historic numbers of women senators won, because gay marriage passed in numerous states, because you can now legally purchase marijuana in Colorado, because Allen West is no longer in the House (and Alan Grayson is once again.)

    Obama has a mandate, and I hope he uses it to enact a forceful agenda and batter the childish House GOP with it.

  9. Did George W. Bush lose the popular vote in 2000? And he won the electoral college vote only because the Supreme Court handed it to him. Funny thing – I don’t remember him moving to the left.

  10. What’s to the right of indefinite detention, secret kill lists, use of espionage laws against whistleblowers, avoiding judicial review, and using military force in multiple countries?

    1. What’s to the right, Pete? Well, off the top of my head, here are a few examples:

      a. Get rid of Elizabeth Warren and her annoying consumer protection deal, and let the marketplace discipline itself, like it did in the great boom years of the W administration.
      b. Get rid of those three Florida Supreme Court justices and their rejection of some of the Tea Party initiatives, and let the legislature decide what’s good for us without annoying interference from the judiciary.
      c. Get rid of freedom of marriage as passed by the annoying Maryland legislature and signed into law by the annoying Governor, and put the Catholic/Baptist coalition back in charge of deciding our moral issues for us.
      d. Get rid of ACA and all those annoying requirements for insurance companies, and let the marketplace provide the best health care for us, the way it always used to before those pesky socialists got involved.
      e. And speaking of health care coverage, get rid of that annoying Medicare system and replace it with vouchers, so the marketplace can let everyone shop for his own insurance, like the good old free-market days.
      f. And on the same topic, kill off that awful Medicaid system, and let those annoying poor and elderly find their own way in the marketplace, just like they used to in the good old free-market days.
      g. Get rid of the rest of the annoying liberal/pinko/communist wing of the Supreme Court, by replacing them as they eventually retire or die with some good solid advocates of the Constitution, like Clarence Thomas.

      Pete, I’ve been eligible to vote for 48 years. I’ve never missed an election in that time — federal, state, local, and school board. I’ve done my homework every time; I’ve never gone to the polling place wondering who or what I should vote for or against.

      I have no illusion that I am voting for perfection. I am well aware that things are worse than I wish they were, and they will still be, even if all my votes win. But I have never for one nanosecond equated the foregoing premise with a conclusion that says therefore, the choices are all equally bad.

      1. Just out of curiosity, when the option comes down choosing between the lesser of two evils, how evil would the lesser evil have to be for you not to choose it? Where would you draw the line?

        1. well, there were third-party candidates, though I am inclined to agree with the post here a week or less ago about why they are a bad vote in a close state. But given Ken R’s list, I don’t think the evils were very close together.

          That said, I would rather see the end of the activities that Pete mentions in his list – with the possible exception of the last. He didn’t start the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, and he has been trying to end them. Libya was arguably a special case – there is very respectable world opinion about the ‘responsibility to protect’. The Atlantic (was it?) article by Michael Lewis about Obama’s decision on intervening in Libya gave a flavour for it. Frankly I don’t mind that kind of analysis by a president. (Using drones to execute people one is not at war with, notably one’s own citizens abroad, I am much less keen on – in part because if the US can do it, why can’t *anyone* else?)

        2. Voting is not a blood oath. I can vote for one candidate and strongly object to some of his or her policies. Voting for a candidate doesn’t mean you’re handing out a blank check or signing off on everything that candidate will do. It’s not a marriage vow. Voting for a presidential candidate doesn’t mean I’ll sleep with him, sign over my firstborn, etc. When I’m voting for president, I’m expressing an opinion about who is better suited to run the country among the candidates available; nothing more.

          If you wish to express objections to a candidate’s individual policies, there are better avenues than the ballot box. The problem with the whole “let’s sacrifice some of our liberties for fake security” apparatus is that it’s not an Obama-specific policy. It’s a bipartisan policy widely supported by the electorate. Not voting for Obama is not going to do one damn thing about fixing it. You have to start by convincing the rest of the American electorate that it’s wrong. If you manage to get that done, you’ll be surprised how quickly candidates will move to where the votes are.

          Good luck, though. Traditionally, Americans have liked it when presidential candidates display “toughness”; killing foreigners (ideally, of the brown variety), executing criminals (actual guilt not being all that relevant), etc. Conversely, being too “soft” has hurt or killed more than one presidential campaign (see: Dukakis, death penalty question). Unless and until you change that mindset, you’ll only get electable presidential candidates who subscribe to it.

          1. Exactly right and very well-stated.

            Too many of us just want to vote and then carp about how bad the electeds are. The hard work of changing the country can’t be done by the President alone. It can’t even be done by the President and every other elected official put together. Focus your efforts on working against the things you think are wrong, including changing public sentiment about them where necessary. Support real liberal media that can help counter Fox and Rush by getting the truth out there. Have long, ongoing conversations with your friends on political things you disagree about. Convince your mother or your cousin to change their minds about something you feel strongly about.

            Whining about everything and everyone that isn’t perfect will get you nowhere.

          2. Great comments, Katja and doretta (as usual). This is what frustrates me most about our presidential elections. We’re asked to put so much energy and treasure into them, and expectations are set so high, that by the time they’re done everybody’s burned out on civic participation.

        3. It’s not the absolute level of ‘evil’ in the lesser evil – it’s the relative ‘evil’ level.
          If I had to pick between Stalin and Nixon, it would be Nixon.

          (the fact it had come down to that in my hypothetical is the real problem.)

      2. Perhaps you missed my point, which was that the notion that Obama is some leftist that should tack right because of the closeness of the election doesn’t fit the facts. My problem in this election was that both candidates were way too far to the right for me morally. I’m really glad that Romney lost, but I’m not happy that Obama won.

  11. Obama has a mandate from every demographic group in the country except ignorant white men. I’d call that a mandate and then some.

  12. Some CNN commentators said tonight President Obama’s mandate is extremely weak due to the popular vote outcome being close

    I seem to recall no such statements from the oh-so-liberal media when Boosh declared his Man Date after a similar margin of victory.

      1. Electoral was lower in 2004, popular is similar – Boosh had a few hundred k more IIRC.

    1. “I seem to recall no such statements ”

      That’s because your memory is bad.

      The pundits — or some of them, anyway — were saying the same things: Bush should be conciliatory, govern from the center, develop a consensus polity, etc.

      Here’s an example from Gloria Borger on Face the Nation, interviewing VP elect Cheney:


      Borger: Mr. Cheney, with all due respect, the Democrats are saying that this administration cannot proceed as the Reagan administration did, for example, with a large tax bill, because you don’t have the mandate that a Ronald Reagan had. And it’s not going to be good enough, they say, to cherry pick one or two Democrats here and there and get them to sign on to whatever tax bill you have.

      What they are asking for, in a lot of areas, not only taxes, but say campaign finance, education, is to sit down with Republicans in advance and actually write legislation together. Would you be willing to do that?

      Cheney: Well, again we’ve got our proposals. We’ll work closely with members on both sides of the aisle. I’m sure we’ll enter into negotiations and discussions as we already have.

      Borger: So the answer is no, then?

      (and it goes on from there)

      Do a web search on

      bush 2000 “no mandate”

      and you’ll see that the idea that Bush had no mandate to govern was widespread.

  13. Wait a minute. In 2000 Bush LOST the popular vote and ruled like he owned the joint. He did better in 2004 but not any better than Obama did this year and Bush still ruled like he owned the joint. In 2008 Obama trounced McCain and Republicans treated him like a carpet-bagger. There’s more than a little double standard going on here – no?

    2000 Bush 47.9% / Gore 48.4%
    2004 Bush 50.7% / Kerry 48.3%
    2008 Obama 52.9% / McCain 45.7%
    2012 50.4 / Romney 48.1%

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