Democrats & Liberals Archives

The Rubber Hits the Road

After the election, there was a lot of quibbling on these pages about whether Bush had earned a mandate. Although I was an active participant in these debates, in retrospect I realized that there is really only one standard of whether a presidential candidate wins an electoral mandate: whether he is so popular that members of Congress are afraid to challenge him.

By this standard, I would argue that no presidential candidate has won a mandate since Ronald Reagan. Before him, probably Lyndon Johnson*. Bush had a non-electoral mandate after 9/11 that was driven by his 90% approval rating (which now stands around 50%).

Bush, of course, has the great advantage of his party controlling Congress, but that isn't the end of the story. Even with our crazy, gerrymandered electoral system, you can bet that a lot of Republican incumbents (as well as Democrats) are more interested in the results of the 2006 elections than the results of 2004.

Certainly, some of Bush's proposals will sail through. He should be able to enact some "permanent" tax cuts, but no law is really permanent. (Remember Gramm-Rudman?) Proposed changes to Social Security, and possibly the structure of the tax code, are headed for a rougher ride. It is one thing to sell people on private accounts (who doesn't want lower payroll taxes?), but it is quite another to sell people on the benefit cuts that are actually going to balance the books. In the tax area, any change to the code that results in an effective middle- or working-class tax increase is going to be a non-starter. (The key words are "revenue neutral", meaning that someone's ox must be gored.)

Besides Social Security, the other hot item this year will certainly be judicial nominations. Rehnquist is sick, and the other conservative judges are certainly conscious of the fact that 2006 is an election year and 2007 could bring a Democratic Senate. This is one area where the prospect really is unequivocally bleak for the Democrats and their left-leaning allies. The best we can hope for is to minimize the damage.

*Both Reagan (1984) and Johnson won about 60% of the popular vote, by the way, so whatever adjectives one cares to apply to Bush's 51% majority have to be amplified exponentially for these guys.

Posted by Woody Mena at January 9, 2005 10:35 AM