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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Obama claims mandate

Published: November 16, 2012
Section: Opinions

When a president is elected by a decent margin, particularly in the popular vote, he can claim a mandate because he is elected from a national constituency. Speaker of the House John Boehner’s claim of having a mandate is unfounded. What Speaker Boehner forgot, so it seems, is that each member of his Republican majority was elected by a unique constituency, each with it’s own interests and reasons for electing their representative. Republican representatives from California, New York and Alabama were all elected from different constituencies. Members of the House, other than through party affiliation, have no inherently identical set of political priorities.

Whether President Obama has a mandate or not, his national constituency is the reason that only the president can legitimately claim a mandate. In every state, every county, even at every district voting location, the one thing that unified every single ballot was the presidential election. Similar to state governors claiming mandates for their state’s future, the executive is the one official elected by voters in several states.

Another dubious problem for Boehner’s claims of a mandate is that many Republicans were elected as the majority of their state’s House delegation, while at the same time the state’s votes went to President Obama. Obviously, districts are going to vary in size, it’s not as though every decade in which states redistrict they perfectly equalize their size.

The Republican majority in the House is further questionable when a handful of states are looked at. In Ohio, which President Obama won by a couple of percentage points, has 16 seats. One might expect that the seats would be nearly split, possibly slant 9-7 for the GOP due to redistricting. Twelve to four for the GOP suggests that 75 percent of the state population voted Republican. Last week, Florida was still processing their presidential election results a few days after the election. The fact that it took so long for Florida to determine which candidate received its electoral votes may not have mattered as it did in 2000, but the fact that it was so close, within a couple percentage points, suggests that Florida’s House delegation should be a nearly even split of the 27 seats.

When all but one seat had been determined, Florida’s delegation included nine Democrats and 17 Republicans. That’s nowhere near the even split that the presidential votes displayed.
It’s easy to understand that there are always going to be states that are gerrymandered. Both Democrats and Republicans can be expected to, when given the chance, adjust districts in order to protect party stronghold seats and/or make other districts more competitive.

As it turned out, the Republican advantage during the 2010 Tea Party Republican surge allowed many state Republicans to redistrict to their advantage. Cumulatively, Democratic candidates got more votes than Republican candidates. While it’s easy—at times— to accept that the Republicans simply got more votes where it mattered than the Democrats, that doesn’t make it right.

Districts should be competitive. I shouldn’t be able to accurately predict, years in advance, how each district in my state will lean. My home state’s 5-3 Democratic split was fairly predictable.

Whether you believe in “mandates” or not, there is simply no way of qualifying Speaker Boehner’s assertion that he and his Republican House’s majority possesses a mandate to oppose President Obama and the necessary compromise that allows government to function effectively. In fact, Republicans—at least the ones that don’t run unopposed—have a greater interest in compromising than President Obama.

President Obama, regardless of a possible mandate, has been liberated from concern about future reelection. All representatives, except the ones who do not want to keep their jobs, are up for reelection in less than two years. From this alone, Boehner’s posturing is somewhat counter productive. Incumbents are often re-elected, arguably because they succeed in blaming the failures of the House on other representatives. If Republicans insist on another two years of hard-nosed refusal to compromise, however, independent voters are liable to vote them out of office.

Elected officials, including the president and those in Congress, are elected to fulfill the societal needs as a government. It definitely isn’t beneficial to spend months of time being stubborn. If Speaker Boehner and the House Republicans can let go of their false notion of a mandate and learn to play ball with the Democrats, then maybe the government can accomplish something over the next two years.