Talk about a 52 pickup for the Democrats. It wasn't too long ago, in the aftermath of Barack Obama's historic 2008 victory, that the word "mandate" became inculcated into our national psyche. We were told that America had sent a message to the Republicans: conservatism was out and liberalism was in.
This new narrative arose with the help of a giddy national media and a stunned GOP base. Could it be true? Was America now on the fast track to becoming ideologically fungible with the social democracies of Europe?
Never mind the vast empirical evidence available that undermined this theory at the time (e.g. the Election Day poll the Club of Growth conducted that pointed to America as still retaining its center-right position on the majority of political issues). A progressive president had been elected and the Democrats had routed the Republicans in nearly every imaginable way during that November.
Obama himself was not immune from advancing this mellifluous narrative. In his inaugural address, he spoke of the work of remaking America and dismissed the cynics as failing to realize that the ground had shifted beneath them.
Anyone who could not recognize the shifting of these ideological grounds was portrayed as obtuse and in denial. As a conservative, I must admit that in the wake of the election I figuratively dreamed of heeding Don McLean's poetic advice in "American Pie" and catching "the last train for the coast ..."
After a long, liberal winter, however, a new dawn has arisen. I didn't buy into the narrative. Neither did the voters of Massachusetts.
A little-known GOP state senator there took one of the most entrenched liberal congressional seats in America by storm. Scott Brown is now on his way to Washington D.C., and the Democrats are scrambling to adjust to life without their beloved supermajority.
During the week following the victory my mind has been filled with the following questions and cogitations: What does Scott Brown's victory mean? Was this election a reverse mandate to Obama's previous mandate, which had overturned the original Reagan mandate?
Such a review highlights the overuse that the word mandate has endured in our national lexicon. I think it is more realistic and prudent to award Brown's victory a slightly less hyperbolic adjective to properly convey its meaning.
Although it is certainly premature to suggest that Brown's win will usher in a new era of conservatism, I think it is hard to argue that the vote wasn't at the very least a partial repudiation of the Democrat's agenda in D.C.
The American people have become increasingly disenchanted with the path that our federal government is taking. And if the voters of Ted Kennedy's Massachusetts are lukewarm about the liberal agenda, then you can likely bet the farm that the rest of the country is even more upset.
The health reform bill was simply not popular with the American people and similar sentiments were pervasive in regard to Cap & Trade and the ever-eroding climate consensus.
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Also, as I mentioned in this space last week, the post-partisan era that Obama promised never materialized, and Americans are sick of special interest favors in all levels of government.
Stripped down to the core elements, I think Americans have rejected the Democratic Party's teleological approach to governance. The ends do not always justify the means.
The Obama administration is, of course, putting on its optimistic face and is unlikely to curtail its agenda significantly because of a now-deceased supermajority in Congress. Still, in his most self-reflective moments, Obama must be asking himself: What happened?
The Obama presidency has reached a bifurcated road and now must decide its next step. Obama can still salvage the remainder of his term if he recognizes that maybe the tectonic plates of ideology have shifted beneath him.
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