In the Two Minute Drill, we explain complex issues in politics in 500 words or less (roughly the amount of words it takes the average adult two minutes to read on a monitor). Politics just isn’t always that complicated. Without the fluff and partisan bias, even the most complex of our political differences can be explained succinctly. This week: what’s with all this talk about a Republican mandate? This is The Two Minute Drill for January 16, 2015.
Barack Obama has been elected president twice, but his party has now gotten dismantled in two midterm elections during his presidency. For the first time since 2006, Congress convened earlier this month under full Republican control. Democrats in the Senate will still have the ability to prevent Republicans from eviscerating the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, and President Obama can exercise a veto (if necessary). But Republicans will be under pressure to deliver on their promises and move legislation to President Obama’s desk in the first few months of the year. Do Republicans have a mandate to enact their agenda?
The Explanation (500 or Bust)
For Republicans, the 2014 midterms cannot possibly be called a “mandate.” The sweeping victory may be cause for celebration among many Republicans, but it in no way means that voters have embraced the Republican Party’s ideas, let alone the tea party agenda.
The simple fact of the matter is that Republicans have no mandate because they offered no agenda. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel (R-Ky.) went so far as to tell reporters that the election was “not the time to lay out an agenda.” Republicans did not present voters with any grand proposals or new ideas. Going into the 2014 midterms, the question for Republicans was always whether running on a simple anti-Obama platform would be enough of an argument to win. It was.
Contrast this election with the 1994 midterms. In 1994, Republicans campaigned on a cogent national agenda, the Contract with America, which set forth a specific set of proposals. Republicans promised a vote on each of them, and Republican candidates signed the Contract and promised to help implement it. No such agenda existed in 2014.
But more importantly, there’s no such thing as a mandate. Part of the problem is that we’re dealing with a term that has no specific, generally accepted meaning. But the bigger issue is that its incredibly difficult to interpret elections the way that politicians and pundits want us to. Americans aren’t particularly ideological and hold incoherent views about virtually everything. The “mandate” narrative is created after the fact by people who want you to think one thing or another. The winners will claim a mandate to change everything, and losers will explain the result away as an anomaly.
Republicans took control of the Senate, expanded their House majority, flipped entire state legislative bodies, and fared well in gubernatorial races. These results, Republicans say, is an endorsement from the American people to implement a conservative agenda. That’s a nice argument. But it just happens to be wrong.
Word Count: 324
The Five Best Things We’ve Read This Week
Here are the five most interesting articles we read this week:
- Sunday Morning Segregation. “Sunday morning remains one of the most segregated hours in American life, with more than 8 in 10 congregations made up of one predominant racial group.” That’s not the most disappointing part. This is: “Two-thirds of American churchgoers (67 percent) say their church has done enough to become racially diverse. And less than half think their church should become more diverse.” From Christianity Today: Most Worshipers Feel Their Church Has Enough Diversity.
- Je Suis Charlie. “My brother was Muslim and he was killed by people who pretend to be Muslims. They are terrorists, that’s it. As for my brother’s death, it was a waste.” Malek Merabet eulogized his brother Ahmed, a police officer who was killed by the Charlie Hebdo attackers.
- In the Shadows. “As many as a million people, joined by 40 world leaders, filled the streets of Paris on Sunday in solidarity after two separate terrorist attacks claimed 17 innocent lives last week. The day before, more than 3,000 miles to the south, a girl believed to be around 10 approached the entrance to a crowded market in Maiduguri, a city of some 1 million in Nigeria’s Borno State. As a security guard inspected her, the girl detonated explosives strapped to her body, killing herself and at least 19 others. Dozens more were injured.” From Matt Schiavenza in The Atlantic: Nigeria’s Horror in Paris’s Shadow.
- Je Suis Crazy. “An ultra-orthodox Jewish newspaper removed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other female leaders from a photograph showing European politicians attending the Paris solidarity march.” From Rose Troup Buchanan in The Independent. The Israeli newspaper – called HaMevaser, or The Announcer – has previously been criticized for removing women from their coverage. HaMevaser clearly does not understand what the Paris rally was all about. But this just goes to show that no one has a monopoly on crazy.
- Free Speech Gag. A few days after the Paris rally focused on the freedom of speech, France arrested a “comedian” because of his, well, speech. The “comedian,” Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, was arrested after writing, “Tonight, as far as I’m concerned, I feel like Charlie Coulibaly” – mixing the slogan “Je suis Charlie” with a reference to gunman Amédy Coulibaly. M’bala M’bala has been arrested at least 38 times for violating French hate-speech laws. His routines are replete with anti-Semitic jokes – he claims that Jewish “slave drivers” secretly run France and has said that “the big crooks of the planet are all Jews.” In other words, M’bala M’bala is a repellant, offensive, anti-Semitic bigot. But if speech is free, shouldn’t this be included?
And in case you missed it, check out The Weekly Column. This past week took a look at the presidential permitting process for oil pipelines. Read the Column – Keystone Xl, Presidential Permitting, and the Politics of Pipelines.
**Careful readers will note that the word limit for The Two Minute Drill has changed from 250 to 500 in this issue. There’s a reason: I misread the scientific research dealing with the speed in which adults read. We all make mistakes! Although the average reading speed varies, on a broad spectrum, the average adult reads about 250 words per minute. College students, by contrast, read about 300 words per minute on average. So, this series of publications should have really been called “The One Minute Drill.” But I like football metaphors, and I like the name (and logo) of this series. A bump from 250 words to 500 words it is, then. If this change makes you angry, please address your complaint to: Former Vice President Dick Cheney, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W., Washington D.C. 20036. Happy reading – Vox.