Mandates don’t matter; power does

One more short piece on the midterm elections. I do not care whether a 4% (or 8% or 12%) margin of victory in a 25% (or 35%) turnout translates into something pundits love to call mandates. That’s a foolish concept for a number of reasons, but most importantly is this: elections are not designed to deliver ideological domination. That may only happen in retrospect (or may not: the 1936 victory of Franklin Roosevelt was followed by his disastrous entry into 1938 politics).

The main purpose of elections is to decide who has power afterwards. It does not matter if you win the presidency by 5 million votes or 537; what matters is whether you have all the legal authority and power structure of the Oval Office. If you doubt me, ask President Gore.

Or, if you really think the margin of victory matters more than which party holds the governor’s mansion or state legislature, assume for a moment that you accidentally won office; for some reason, you are a minor state official and some clerical error in state law placed you as the successor to a governor who was just appointed as a Cabinet officer in Washington. You’re told by the state’s Attorney General that, yes, you are governor. Complete accident, as far as you were concerned, but it’s the law.

How much would your decisions be made on the basis of that accident, or would you make the very best decisions you could, according to your best judgment?

That is why mandates do not matter. After an election, people who have power will (and should) try to exercise it to the fullest. And the rest of us kibitz and push back when appropriate.

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