The question swirling in Washington and around the nation since the Nov. 2 election is whether President Bush has a "mandate" or not.
Having garnered 51 percent of the electorate with nearly 60 million votes, the most ever in presidential history, Republicans say Bush assuredly does have a mandate.
His Democratic critics say no way. They point out that but for 135,000 votes in Ohio, John Kerry would be president-elect today. The Bay State senator's 48 percent total was the second-most votes in U.S. history. The last time an incumbent president won by such a narrow margin was in 1916. Hence, no landslide, no mandate.
Of course, Democrats didn't talk this way when Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992 and '96, both times with less than 50 percent of the vote.
Yet the truth is, it doesn't matter by how large or how small a margin a presidential victory is, because a mandate isn't necessarily defined by what happens on Election Day. It's what follows that matters.
If the enthusiasm that spurred Bush's voters to the polls does not dissipate over time, then "the capital" or mandate, if you will that he says he built up in the campaign should enable him to get much of his agenda legislated, particularly since he's the first president since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934 and '36 to increase his majority in Congress in two consecutive elections.
But if the enthusiasm wanes, then so will the mandate. This is why it's important for Bush to strike while the iron is hot. He can't name Supreme Court justices until openings occur, but on his political agenda tax cuts, Social Security reform, tax simplification, etc. there's a lot he can get done if his 51 percent majority stays actively behind him.
How can they do that? Simple: via phone, e-mail or snail mail, they need to contact their congressional representatives when the hot-button issues are up for debate. Especially contact U.S. senators; in the Senate, 60 votes not just a simple majority are needed to pass controversial legislation.
Red-state Democrats up for re-election in 2006 are much more likely to support the Bush agenda when they know it's what the folks back home really want. That's what a mandate is all about keeping Election Day heat on after Election Day has passed. If it doesn't happen, there is no mandate; if it does happen, there is.
Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Ga.) - Nov. 16
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