"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

The worst election outcome

Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

In the 1960 presidential election, John Kennedy received 49.72% of the popular vote; Richard Nixon 49.55%. Kennedy’s actual “win” came in the electoral college. Still, even in victory, he had to walk down the street knowing one of every two people he passed voted against him. Not a comfortable situation. Nor one that makes for effective governing.

Members of Congress knew that, too. Which was why his administration got off to a difficult legislative start. When half – or nearly half – the people vote for someone other than the winner, opposition in Congress tends to be stiffer because members know – statistically and politically – half the folks at home won’t be unhappy about their opposition.

Which is yet another sterling piece of evidence that Mitt Romney – the guy who wants be “Chairman of the Board” rather than a serving president – just doesn’t understand the office and hasn’t a clue about White House and congressional relationships.

One of Romney’s most used stump speech lines – public and private – is he doesn’t need to win by a large margin; “only 50.1%.” It’s his mantra. The phrase “50.1%” is never far from his lips. And it’s usually said with a smile as if he’s just pointed out something only he knows. Well, he may know the number, but has no idea what it means. ‘Cause it ain’t good.

Bill Clinton – the Lazurus of American politics – knows that. He knows, too, 50.1% wouldn’t be enough in this year’s poisonous politics to break the congressional stalemate. Democrats have more than 50.1% of the Senate already and it’s done them no good.

If – as I suspect – the makeup of the House and Senate won’t be much different in 2013 from what it is today, a president who doesn’t receive a mandate from the voters will have no more chance to break the logjam than Obama had these last four years. It’ll be more of the same.

So what would be a mandate? Hard to say. I’d put it at 54-57% at least. A percentage high enough that the president could go over the heads of members of Congress and make his case with the people directly on any given issue. High enough that his support and popularity would be greater than most members of Congress so he could pose a threat to their continued residence along the Potomac in 2014.

Romney is playing grade school logic here. If he were elected with just 50.1%, he couldn’t do any more with Congress than Obama. Many members, likely to get a higher percentage in their campaigns, would be emboldened with their own popularity to stop him at every turn. And remember- it’s not just Democrats a President Romney would have to contend with. It’s those pesky TP-GOP kooks as well. His 50.1% would buy him nothing.

Lazurus -er Clinton – believes if the next president doesn’t get a mandate, the other thing that could shake up the mess in Washington would be what he terms “an action-forcing event.” During Clinton’s presidency, Newt Gingrich and that over-hyped “Class of 94″ elected to Congress, forced a government shutdown. Closed ‘er right up for a couple of weeks. The backlash from voters in both parties was nasty enough Gingrich and his “pirates” were forced to back off. “After that,” Clinton said, “we worked together and had five good years together.” That overlooks an impeachment but you get his drift.

Some moderate members in both parties think letting the government “go off the cliff” in January isn’t such a bad idea. I think so, too. Let sequestration have its head. Let the budget slashes hit. Let the Bush tax cuts expire on everyone. Let those who voted for that idiotic “sequestration” rather than do their jobs twist in the wind a bit.

Then, first day of the new session of Congress, Senate Democrats – who will likely still have a majority – could immediately introduce a bill to restore tax cuts for everyone making less than $250,000 a year. Odds are some Republicans looking for cover would vote for that. A few have already said so. That could be the “action-forcing” event Clinton talks about.

As for budget cuts, once the tax business is out of the way, the coalition formed to pass that could become the bi-partisan working base necessary to take up the budget issues. The necessary cutting could be done then with no artificial deadline – more carefully selected reductions where they would do the least harm. I think it’s worth a try. Especially if the composition of Congress remains essentially unchanged in 2013.

These are the kinds of things a president can sponsor and work for – if he has a mandate. If he goes into the new year with some voter strength that comes from a 54% or greater election. Romney’s repeated “50.1%” simply shows he’s talking only of winning – not governing.

I hate to be the one out here in the Oregon woods to break it to you, Sir, but your idea of winning would be a national loss. Yours, too. It’s the governing you should be worry about.
Well, given the new polling, maybe you’d just be worrying needlessly.

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