More advice for President Bush on his “non-mandate”

Why is it that so-called political “experts” insist on informing President Bush what he should or shouldn’t do in his new term? And why do they insist on comparing his recent victory to those of past presidents, even when their analogies don’t make sense? Can they simply not get over what happened on November 4? (I withdraw the question, your honor. We already know the answer).

The latest example of expert advice comes from Oliver Woshinsky, a professor of political science and author, who provided the President with his suggestions in this editorial over the weekend. The professor announced that Bush may want to “rethink that mandate,” then opens his column with all the reasons why Bush has one:

After all, Bush won more votes than any other American in history, gaining three million more than his rival, John Kerry. He stood for dramatically different policies than Kerry, and he projected a vastly different vision for the country. Americans had to know what they would be getting with Bush, and they turned out in large numbers to give him the first majority vote for a presidential candidate since 1988.

He then goes on to mention the increase in Republican seats in Congress and the loss by the sitting Senate minority leader, Tom Daschele. He concludes, right from the start, that the Republicans are firmly in power. He asks the question again:

Don’t these facts add up to a mandate? Doesn’t President Bush have a clear signal from the American people to implement the conservative agenda on which he campaigned?

Uh…yeah, he does. But, says the prof, not so fast:

Perhaps not. Bush and his allies would be making a big mistake to think that the country is demanding conservative policies. Following that route would prove unnecessarily divisive and could in the long run hurt the interests of the Republican Party.

This is the typical arrogance that we on the right find so endearing of the opposition. I don’t know what Professor Woshinsky’s political leanings are, as he doesn’t state them. I have to go with the percentages in this case: political science professor at a small northeaster college (University of Southern Maine) where he’s been teaching for thirty years…I’m betting on “from the left.” I’m also not going to challenge the man’s expertise on politics. After all, he has published on the subject, and spends a lot of time researching the political landscape. Yet I have to wonder if sitting up in Maine for thirty years hasn’t limited the professor’s world view somewhat, especially in relation to how we vote, why we vote and what political victories really mean.

The most distressing thing about Professor Woshinsky’s theory is the way he uses numbers and percentages to drive home his point. Perhaps he needs to be reminded that the Internet allows people to look stuff up, just to be sure that what someone says makes logical sense. He begins by pointing out the relative margins of victory for the 21 incumbents who won reelection. He notes that some won by margins of ten percent of the vote and more. Others “had more trouble” winning, with victories of 8.5 down to 4.5 percent. I don’t know about you, but in this modern time, especially with the turnout that occurred in 2004, numbers in that range would be pretty impressive. Thus, his next point:

Finally, two presidents won re-election by a margin of just 3 percent of the total vote cast. One was Woodrow Wilson in 1916. This election was so close that Wilson went to bed on election night believing he’d lost. Historians agree that Wilson won a squeaker of a race. No one has ever seen his re-election that year as a mandate to do anything.

The other president who won re-election by about the same margin as Wilson is George W. Bush. He beat Kerry by 51 percent to 48 percent. Rather than a mandate, Bush’s victory represents a tie for the slimmest margin of victory by a sitting president in the entire 216-year history of American presidential elections. Only a partisan spin-master can call that result a mandate.

Hmmm, only three percent. Just like Woodrow Wilson, right? Well, let’s do some number-by-number comparisons of the reelections of both men. A wonderful site for past election results is the online Encyclopedia Britannica, and I found breakdowns of Wilson’s 1916 reelection here. This page even shows electoral college maps for each Presidential election event. They haven’t added the 2004 election yet, so I used the latest numbers from this page on Yahoo.

The major difference between the two elections, and the most obvious, is the number of people who actually voted. In 1916, about 17,600,000 votes were cast. In 2004, the number was 118 million, a tenfold increase. On reason for the big difference, other than the size of the American population (about 100 million in 1916) was the fact that only adult men were permitted to vote in that election. Women didn’t obtain the right to vote until 1920. The 18-year-old vote wasn’t added to the Constitution until 1971. So, the cross-section of the population permitted to cast a vote was very different then that it is today. Without breaking down the number of eligible voters, that’s about 17% of the national population that year.

In 2004, about 118 million votes were cast. If we estimate the population to be about 285 million, one can see the dramatic difference in voting numbers, with about 41% of the total population voting. Add in factors different from the 1916 vote, such as women and younger people in the mix, and the demographics make the two elections very different without even comparing the percentages.

But Woshinsky’s point is that Wilson and Bush both won with the “slimmest” of margins. So, let’s look at the raw vote totals: Wilson beat his opponent, Charles Hughes, by 579,811 votes. George W. Bush won 3,332,383 more votes than John Kerry. One might make the argument that there’s no mandate based on the electoral college vote. Both Wilson (277-254) and Bush (286-252) won narrower electoral victories than many other presidents in the past 100 years. (Bush-Gore in 2000 was the narrowest). But Woshinsky doesn’t argue the narrow EV margin; in fact, he doesn’t mention the electoral vote in his entire piece. I suppose I’d have to be considered one of those “partitian spin-masters” since I see a 3.3 million vote victory as a lot more of a mandate then a 580 thousand vote spread. Especially considering that more than half the population in 1916 that could vote today could not back then.

The professor also points out the differences in eligible voters versus actual voters, and once again, he tries to spin the numbers (like a “partisan spin-master”) to support his “not a mandate” point:

Two hundred and ten million adult Americans could have registered and voted this year. Sixty million actually showed up at the polls and voted for Bush. In other words, not even three in 10 Americans liked Bush well enough to make the effort to vote for him. It’s hard to read mandate into that figure.

Let’s assume that Woshinsky is correct on his numbers of potential eligible voters. He then takes the total number eligible, subtracts the number who voted for Bush (60 million) and says “not even three in 10 Americans” voted for him. Well, we can do the same thing with Kerry, who earned 3.3 million votes less than Bush, and make the same general statement. The fact is that you can’t compare the number who actually voted with the number who didn’t. We don’t know how those who didn’t vote would have voted. We don’t know why they didn’t vote, either. There may have been legitimate reasons why those 92 million didn’t bother. Perhaps they weren’t registered. Perhaps they just don’t care about politics one way or the other. One can’t make assumptions about what such a large group of people will or won’t do, and one can’t conclude that the entire non-voting population didn’t vote for Bush because they didn’t “like him well enough.” Woshinsky is arguing this lack of mandate; how about I make the argument that 48% of those non-voters didn’t vote for the other guy either?

The only legitimate way to look at the election and the mandate is to point out that percentages aside, 3.3 million more people voted for Bush. Unlike 2000, when he won the electoral vote but not the popular vote, the swing in his direction is significant. And, mo matter how Woshinsky or any other pundit, analyst or professor of poly-sci wants to spit it, 3.3 million of anything is a lot, as I have explained here.

The professor concludes by explaining why Bush can win or lose his political base on how he governs. If he goes “radical,” he’ll wind up losing his base in the end. And, of course, as is always the case in this type of political breakdown, Woshinsky reminds the President that his success is based on governing for the “moderates”:

A pragmatic politician might in these conditions move toward that large bloc of moderate voters as a way of enlarging his party’s base and ensuring long-term electoral advantage.

Since the definition of pragmatic includes dealing or concerned with facts or actual occurrences, I’m curious as to what the professor is implying. Has George Bush not governed from a pragmatic position for the past four years? Has he not dealt with September 11, the economy, education, terrorism, Afghanistan, Iraq and other major issues with the “facts” or “actual occurrences”? One might argue the WMDs-in-Iraq issue to some extent, but Charles Duelfer’s testimony to Saddam’s intent kills a lot of those “Bush lied” claims. But, many already see the president as “pragmatic” and didn’t see Senator Kerry that way, since most of us couldn’t figure out what he was ever going to do, even with all those “plans” he had already drawn up.

Besides, one doesn’t govern pragmatically to please a segment of the voting population. One governs because one believes in what needs to be done. President Bush has already been elected. Based on his history, he will govern a certain way, and he’ll expect to get the support necessary to finish the things he started and implement new ideas. In a way, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of him at this point, since he could do pretty much what he wants. That, I believe, is what Professor Woshinsky and others fear Bush will do. But they don’t need to worry. 60 million of us sent him back to work. That’s a big number, and it’s a mandate. We’re all certain he’ll do the right thing, as he always has.

A few days after the election, when the leftist whining was in full bore, I reminded people that the definition of mandate doesn’t mean you have to have a certain number or percentage of voters, other than “more than the other guy.” If you want to argue that in 2000, neither Bush nor Gore would have had a “mandate” because of the electoral-popular vote splits, I might concede to your argument. But Bush won the whole pot this time. That’s a mandate, no matter how you try to slice it.

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