Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Mandates and Obstructionism Examples: 2012

EXAMPLES AND ANALYSIS: 2012 Mandates and Obstructionism
"The big obstacle to comprehensive tax reform is the persistent Republican myth that spending cuts alone can achieve economic and budget goals. That notion was sounded [sic] rejected by voters during the election."
-- New York Times editorial, December 29, 2012.

Comment: First, this seems like a "silver bullet" caricature. Have Republicans really said that spending cuts alone would meet their economic and budget goals? Haven't they also called for tax reform? Second, it seems like the editorial is indulging in "Americans want" rhetoric -- as well as mandate rhetoric -- by saying that voters rejected the Republican position.

"But if we’re serious about reducing our deficit while still investing in things like education and research that are important to growing our economy -- and if we’re serious about protecting middle-class families -- then we’re also going to have to ask the wealthiest Americans to pay higher tax rates. That’s one principle I won’t compromise on. After all, this was a central question in the election. A clear majority of Americans -- Democrats, Republicans and Independents -- agreed with a balanced approach that asks something from everyone, but a little more from those who can most afford it. It’s the only way to put our economy on a sustainable path without asking even more from the middle class. And it’s the only kind of plan I’m willing to sign."
-- President Barack Obama, December 8, 2012, during the president's weekly address.

Comment: Obama is claiming a mandate to raise tax rates on the wealthiest Americans on the basis of a "clear majority" of Americans supporting that proposal. Is a clear majority of support sufficient to justify a mandate on any matter?

"Mr. Speaker, as we all know, in the course of the election, the President made it very clear that he was supporting the extension of the middle income tax cuts and everyone, 100 percent of the American people, would benefit from it. One hundred percent of taxpayers, small businesses, wage earners, and the rest. The Republicans are saying that rather than passing that they want to hold it hostage to giving an additional tax cut to people making over $250,000 a year. That’s not negotiating. That’s hostage taking. "
-- House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), December 4, 2012, from the floor of the House of Representatives.

Comment: Pelosi is engaging in "hostage-taking" rhetoric. She is perhaps also implying that President Barack Obama has a mandate to pass his tax proposal, by virtue of his re-election. If so, do House Republicans have a mandate to block that tax proposal, since they clearly campaigned against it in their re-election?

"Again and again, the first term revealed Obama’s idea of bipartisanship: Dissenters are unpatriotic and must surrender. Compromise is a one-way street for him. As polarizing and ineffective as that approach was, he was rewarded with four more years. A different man might see that as a mulligan -- a second chance to get it right. Not Obama. His behavior now is even more troubling. That he’s willing to risk sending the economy back into recession and killing even more jobs leads me to believe his second term will be far more radical than the first. A stranger to humility, he thinks re-election confers a blank check. His demand that spending cuts and entitlement reform be put off, while Republicans give him the tax hikes and the stimulus he wants, suggests he’s not serious about facing the mountain of debt."
-- Columnist Michael Goodwin, December 2, 2012.

Comment: Goodwin is complaining that President Barack Obama's idea of bipartisanship is wanting? Is that true? Has Obama called dissent unpatriotic and treated compromise as a one-way street? Goodwin is also accusing Obama of being divisive (by calling him "polarizing"), and indulging in "radical" rhetoric. In addition, he says Obama thinks he has a limitless mandate as a result of re-election, and that Obama is not "serious" about our debt problems. All this combines to create an unflattering caricature of Obama. Goodwin can criticize Obama's positions without resorting to this name-calling and demonizing.

"The President has said he wants a so-called balanced approach to solve this crisis. But what he proposed this week was a classic bait and switch on the American people -- a tax increase double the size of what he campaigned on, billions of dollars in new stimulus spending and an unlimited, unchecked authority to borrow from the Chinese. Maybe I missed it but I don’t recall him asking for any of that during the presidential campaign. These ideas are so radical that they have already been rejected on a bipartisan basis by Congress."
-- Sen. Orrin Hatch, (R-UT), December 1, 2012, during the weekly GOP address.

Comment: Hatch is claiming that Obama has no mandate to enact certain policies, because they are not the policies Obama campaigned on. Also, he is indulging in "radicalism" rhetoric. Finally, he is engaging in "bipartisan" rhetoric, apparently arguing that ideas that have been rejected on a bipartisan basis are radical and wrong.

"Democrats seem to have neutralized the traditional G.O.P. advantage on social issues, so that the election really was a referendum on economic policy. And what voters said, clearly, was no to tax cuts for the rich, no to benefit cuts for the middle class and the poor."
-- Columnist Paul Krugman, November 30, 2012.

Comment: Krugman is claiming that Democrats have a mandate to enact certain policies. But his argument presumes that people who voted for Democrats did so without any caveats or misgivings about their economic policies. Plus, Republicans were given control of the House of Representatives in the election, and their opposition to the economic policies of Democrats was also clearly stated. So, do they have a mandate to block Democrats? And vice versa? Or did votes instead provide a mandate for compromise? Maybe no mandate at all was given. Krugman's remarks might also be an appeal to popularity.

"And understand this was a central question in the election -- maybe the central question in the election. You remember. We talked about this a lot. It wasn't like this should come as a surprise to anybody. We had debates about it. There were a lot of TV commercials about it. And at the end of the day, a clear majority of Americans -- Democrats, Republicans, independents -- they agreed with a balanced approach to deficit reduction and making sure that middle-class taxes don’t go up. Folks agreed to that."
-- President Barack Obama, November 30, 2012.

Comment: Obama appears to be claiming a mandate to enact certain policies due to the election. However, did everyone (or a majority) who voted for Obama and Democrats really endorse those policies? What about the people who voted for Republicans to control the House? Did they give House Republicans a mandate to block Obama? Or were both sides given a mandate to compromise? And, if so, compromise in what way, specifically?

SCHIEFFER: The President won, but this was a very close victory, and it came down to those battleground states, and it was close even there. Does the President feel that he won a mandate?
AXELROD: Well, Bob, on this particular issue, it wasn't close. As I said, if you look at the exit polls, I think it was somewhere around 60 percent of the American people agreed with the President's position on this issue of taxes.
-- Political advisor David Axelrod, November 11, 2012, appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation" hosted by Bob Schieffer.

Comment: Axelrod seems to be arguing that Obama has a mandate based on the opinion of those who voted. In particular, he's claiming that roughly 60% of actual voters agreeing with President Barack Obama's position on taxes is sufficient to give Obama a mandate on that issue. Is that claim correct?

"Everyone's going to have to come to the table in the spirit of getting something done. But on this issue of -- particularly the fiscal cliff … presidents always say "I have a mandate, I have a mandate". That's a -- that's a foolish word and it's generally untrue."
-- Political advisor David Axelrod, November 8, 2012.

Comment: Why is it generally untrue? Under what conditions is it true? How does this square with Axelrod's remarks three days later apparently claiming that President Barack Obama does have a mandate.

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