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Mandates and Senate News

November 8th, 2008

The presidential election is over, and we all know Obama won–but he won 365-173–more than two-thirds of the electoral college in his favor. That may sound like a landslide, but really, the only president to get fewer electoral votes in the past 30 years was George W. Bush; everyone from Reagan to Clinton got more electoral votes than Obama did this time.

On the other hand, let’s all remember that when Dubya won in 2004 (with a lot fewer popular and electoral votes than Obama got), he was awarded a “mandate” by many conservatives, especially Dick Cheney–a claim that the media echoed. Not just the conservative media, but it is notable what people like Bob Novak said that the time:

Q: Bob Novak, is 51 percent of the vote really a mandate?

NOVAK: Of course it is. It’s a 3.5 million vote margin. But the people who are saying that it isn’t a mandate are the same people who were predicting that John Kerry would win. … So the people who say there’s not a mandate want the president, now that he’s won, to say, Oh, we’re going to accept the liberalism that the — that the voters rejected. But Mark, this is a conservative country, and it showed it on last Tuesday. [11/06/04]

And now, with Obama winning over McCain by 7.4 million votes, double the “mandate” margin that Bush got? Novak writes:

But Obama’s win was nothing like that. He may have opened the door to enactment of the long-deferred liberal agenda, but he neither received a broad mandate from the public nor the needed large congressional majorities.

Another argument that Bush supporters pushed in 2004 was that Bush was voted for by the largest number of Americans in history; what they didn’t note was that he was also voted against by the largest number of people in history. Obama was voted for by what is now the largest number of people ever–and the number who voted against him is less than those who voted against Bush in ’04. So he has a mandate then? Of course not–only Republicans get mandates.

But it’s OK–Obama’s not trying to claim any mandates. Instead, he claimed humility, and asked to be everyone’s president, promising to give both right and left his attention and respect.

What’s still interesting, though, is the Senate. The Dems now have 55 seats, a 7-seat pickup; Jim Jeffords and Joe Leiberman constitute two other seats that are “independent,” but currently caucus with the Democrats If they are both counted on the Dems’ side, that gives them 57 seats. Not a filibuster-proof majority.

But wait, three races are still undecided.

In Alaska, Republican (and convicted felon) Ted Stevens has a 3257-vote lead over Democratic challenger Mark Begich, out of a total 221,713 votes–but something is definitely suspicious. In an election where voter turnout was the highest in generations, the Alaskan election showed a decrease in turnout, suggesting that not all the votes were counted. In fact, 9500 early votes and more than 50,000 absentee votes–which so far have favored the Democrat–have yet to be counted. That’s about one-fifth of the total vote–so Stevens may yet be defeated, and the Dems could pick up another seat.

In Georgia, Saxby Chambliss (you know, the guy who ran a despicable campaign where he compared triple-amputee war hero Mac Cleland to Osama bin Laden) seemed to win, but undercounts there also corrected that impression–and while Chambliss still got more votes, he failed to clear the 50% hurdle, so there will be a special runoff election which he still could lose.

But the closest race as of the moment is in Minnesota, where Norm Coleman claimed victory over Al Franken. But hold on, Norm–you only won by about 700 votes, close enough to trigger an automatic recount. Coleman did not show much class or cool–in addition to claiming premature victory, he also criticized Franken for not fighting against a recount. A recount mandated by law.

And Franken would have good reason to demand a recount, even if it were not required by law: he is quickly gaining on Coleman. First Coleman was ahead by more than 700 votes, then that fell to 450, and now he’s ahead by only a few hundred votes. And a recount will probably turn up a lot more votes for Franken: most of the “undervotes” (votes made but not counted due to errors or omissions) come from Democratic districts. Some may simply not have voted for a Senator, but many probably did but the machines failed to recognize them. That will be cleared up upon manual inspection of the ballots. Franken may yet win this thing.

And if the Dems win all three of those seats, then they will have a total of 58–and here’s where Leiberman apparently thinks he’ll have the most traction, as he’s the 60th filibuster-breaking vote. Not that he’d still vote with the Democrats.

So, should the Dems tell Leiberman to get lost? Leiberman did all but literally stab the Dems in the back, not just by siding with McCain, not just by speaking at the Republican convention and attacking Obama, but by actually campaigning for Republicans in the House and Senate. Unless Leiberman is a complete hypocrite who acts whatever way benefits him most in any given week, it is hard to see him breaking Republican filibusters anyway. But Leiberman is a scumball, and the Dems should simply do without him.

Whether it’s going to be 56 or 59, or even 60, the Democrats now have a lot more influence and sway than they did before. If Obama can influence Republicans who may cooperate–like moderate Republican Senator Olympia Snowe from Maine, they won’t need to sway too many votes.

Whatever the case, Obama has more of a chance than believed to avoid the massive tidal wave of obstructionism that the Republicans have been dishing out over the past two years.

Who knows, maybe we’ll actually get some stuff done.

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  1. Paul
    November 9th, 2008 at 04:07 | #1

    Personally, I actually hope that the Democrats do NOT win all three of these races. If they do, then Lieberman’s vote becomes the 60th, and therefore crucial to breaking filibusters- and I can’t stand the idea of that smarmy little worm having that much power.

    Right now, Kos is trying to start a movement among the people to pressure Reid and the rest of the Senate Democrats to boot Lieberman from his chairmanships of various committees. I think it’s great. Let him continue to caucus with them if they want, but as far as I’m concerned he should have as much seniority as any other Senator elected just two years ago.

    That, after all, is when he was first elected to the Senate as a member of the “CFL” party.

    Some might say “well, then he’ll bail and caucus with the Republicans”. So what? Merely CAUCUSING with them doesn’t help them any- so they might throw him a little bone and make him the “ranking member” of a committee or two, but the reality is that they’re not going to give him any kind of serious power.

    And they’re certainly not going to vote with his positions on many, many issues (assuming, of course, that he continues to vote on social issues in the way he has in the past.)

    So frankly, unless it’s for that all-important 60th vote, Lieberman’s vote isn’t important to the Democrats. Enforcing *some* party discipline, however, IS. I’m not normally a huge fan of the parties using power plays to “whip” members into line, but I think it’s called for when the guy was out there shilling not just for McCain but for Republicans of all kinds.

    So… let’s hope that one of these races goes clearly into Republican territory (I’d bet on Georgia, myself) and we can dispense with Lieberman.

  2. Luis
    November 9th, 2008 at 12:03 | #2


    I’d agree except for what I said about getting a few Republicans to side with the Democrats. We don’t need Leiberman if we could get Snowe or one or two other Republicans to side with us on whatever issue it is. I think that people forget about the fact that 100% solidarity is hard to come by–it is doubtful that the GOP could pull it off very often, if ever at all.

    The thing is, even if Leiberman bolts, the GOP will still be hard-pressed to find enough votes to filibuster–unless the Dems lose any of these three contested seats. The more the Dems lose, the easier it becomes for the GOP to get the 40 votes.

    That’s why I hope that (a) the Dems win all three remaining seats, and (b) Leiberman gets clobbered, but good: he deserves it and really doesn’t matter anyway. And like I said, whatever he promises Democrats about caucusing, he’ll still likely help Republicans filibuster all they can. He’s a manipulative little snot and does whatever he thinks he can get away with. Before, he was necessary to the Dems because without him, all power went to the GOP; now, the Dems can get around him easy, and can’t trust him anyway.

    Remember, Obama (in one of his few big errors) actually supported Leiberman in his race against Lamont; see how Leiberman rewarded that favor. Leiberman cannot be trusted–let the GOP have the bastard.

  3. Tim Kane
    November 9th, 2008 at 13:38 | #3

    This is why I think Al Franken is so important. Satire and mocking humor can be the ultimate political sword, and he can play an important prod into getting some mild mannered Republicans to avoid looking like fools – kind of the way Barney Frank made the Republicans look like fools for voting against the bailout because they had hurt feelings. That kind of stuff is just brilliant politics, and so I have high expectations for Franken, and growing confidence that he’s just going to make it there under the wire, and be there for many years to come. The next greatest thing to Obama winning, the Dems trouncing, is Franken.

    In regard to Lieberman, I too would like to shit can him. But I’m not sure that there isn’t a more sophisticated way of handling him. Why not string him along the way he strung us along? I think shit-canning him would be a big waste of resources. There ought to be a way to turn his craveness against him. There are going to be some big votes coming up that are very important to real people really hurting and you don’t want them to fail because of revenge.

    I’m not sure this is possible, but if it were, and I was Harry Reid, I would tell Lieberman your in the dog house. You’re grounded. You’re stripped of your chairmanship for a year or maybe two until after the next election and we get a new congress. If you behave, and you caucus with us and your are a good boy for those two years, well then maybe you can have a committee back. For two years we’ll get yellow dog loyalty out of him – I guarantee it.

    It’s important to strip Lieberman of the committee that he is currently in charge of, because it is the same committee Waxman has in the house, and the job of that committee is to police government. There’s a lot of house cleaning that needs to be done, and we don’t need an ally of the Bush Administration sitting at the head of that committee. Thats one big reason the Bush administration can commit massive corruption and get away with murder. Lieberman’s complicity.

    So strip him of his authority. Use his craven lust for power to string him along. I guarantee you for those two years he won’t be breaking any filibusters.

    In two years, things will be different, Reid won’t have to live up to his promisses, because Lieberman never lived up to his. He stabbed Obama and the whole freaking Democratic party in the back.

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