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Nov 09 2009

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“Legitimacy”

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  • On Tuesday, November 7, 2000, Vice President Al Gore out polled his opponent, Governor George W. Bush by 543,895 votes. But as the Founders devised the Electoral College to pick Presidents instead of the popular vote, Gore lost to Bush, 271-266.1
  • The recount circus that prevailed after Election Day ultimately required the intervention of the Supreme Court to make the results official; results later confirmed by a newspaper recount.2
  • But evidence to the contrary never stopped President Bush’s political opponents from condemning the election as illegitimate – both by the intervention of SCOTUS and the popular vote loss, regardless of its inadmissibility as an element of electoral due process in the election.
  • Instead, the “Illegitimates” demanded that the incoming Bush presidency enfeeble itself to the whims of whatever political Washington considered suitable bipartisanship. But Bush, who won 47.8% of the popular vote (50.4% of the Electoral Vote), won 100% of the presidency.
  • He paid no attention to the talking heads and his erstwhile opponents, and went about implementing the policies he had proposed during the campaign, devising coalitions of Republicans and amendable Democrats to implement his agenda.
  • Yet the raw feelings from the campaign and popular vote loss only deepened the rage of Democrats at Bush’s chosen course.
  • From it developed a public narrative that has become the stuff of political legend and remains widely believed; that Bush governed for and by his political base without broader support for his policies. Bush’s policies were framed by the New York Times favorite word for legislation its editorial board disagrees with; “divisive.”
  • But a very simple review of the record shows that this is not true.
  • Bush’s “divisive” tax cuts in 2001?  Passed the House by 240-154 (39 not voting) and with the support of 28 Democrats. In the Senate, the tax cuts passed 62-38 with 10 Democrats voting with the Republicans.3
  • The “divisive” No Child Left Behind education legislation from 2002 passed 381-41 (12 NV) in the House and 87-10 (3 NV) in the Senate.4
  • What about the “divisive” Patriot Act?  In 2001 it passed 357-66 in the House and 98-1 in the Senate.5
  • Yes, yes, the Democrats didn’t know what they were getting into granting authority to the “diabolical” Bush administration that actually used the Act’s provisions to prevent additional terrorism, as the legislation’s passage was so close to the trauma of 9-11.  Clearly a better measure would be the Act’s reauthorization in 2005, after all of the “divisive” Bush excesses had been exposed.
  • Here we can see that the Patriot Act was reauthorized in 2005, 257-171 (with 43 Democrats voting in favor) in the House and 89-10 in the Senate.  Among those voting “yes” were John Kerry and Teddy Kennedy.6
  • Additionally the Bush presidency will be known and defined by the “divisive” war in Iraq. Most forget that the Administration sought authorization to go to war in Iraq. That Resolution passed in 2002 by a margin of 296-13 in the House (with 81 Democrats voting in favor) and 77-23 in the Senate (with 29 Democrats voting in favor).7
  • Despite these impressive bipartisan majorities, the tribute is larger when one considers the composition of Congress where the Bush administration and Republicans did not come close to enjoying Democratic majorities that exist today:
Party: REPUBLICAN DEMOCRAT
Congresses:
107th (1-01/6-01)
Senate 50 (VP to break tie) 50
House 222 211
107th (6-01/1-03)
Senate 49 51
House 222 211
108th  (1-03/1-05)
Senate 51 49
House 225 207
109th (1-05/1-07)
Senate 55 44
House 229 202
  • Thus it is simply an “urban legend” that Bush governed from the Right with ideological and conservative legislative zeal.
  • Ironically, it’s simply a fact that votes on issues that were most “divisive” to Democrats – NCLB, the Patriot Act and the Iraq War all occurred when Democrats controlled the Senate.
  • It is uncontestable that Bush did, in fact, govern in a bipartisan fashion, assembling coalitions both out of necessity and prudence, but crucially, not coalitions that were acceptable to the liberal Democratic leadership which took control of Congress in 2007 and remains in place now.
  • Which brings us to today.
  • On November 4, 2008, Senator Barack Obama won 52.9% of the popular vote and 67.8% of the Electoral Vote, making him President.  In the Senate, Harry Reid eventually found his filibuster proof majority with a coalition of 60 Senators, or 60% of the Senate’s vote.  In the House, Speaker Pelosi controls between 58-59% of the votes, 254-177 at last count.8
  • But election majorities from last November have not been replicated as voting majorities in the past year on Obama policy priorities.
  • In fact, Democratic legislative action has achieved its results to date on razor-thin partisan votes, where the Democrats have lost a significant portion of their own members against a united Republican opposition.
  • If the Democrats were more amenable to the private sector, you might consider their actions a “hostile takeover” of traditional American policy prerogatives.
  • On the Stimulus bill passed in February, Speaker Pelosi lost eight Democrats in a final 246-183 vote.  In the Senate, Harry Reid was able to coax Republican Senators Olympia Snow and Susan Collins, with soon-to-be Democrat Arlen Specter to pass the Stimulus barely, 61-37.9
  • On Cap N’ Trade, the Waxman-Markey bill passed in the House in June with a vote of 219-212; two more voted than required for a majority. 44 Democrats bailed on their leadership and joined the Republicans in opposition.10
  • And on Saturday, the most consequential health care legislation in two generations passed the House with the defection of 39 Democrats – for a final 220-215 win; a three vote majority.11
  • Needless to say, the Democrats are significantly under-performing their majority, unable to keep their Caucus united, let alone attract broader support from the opposition.
  • As analysts have poured over the results from last Tuesday’s election, the potential for a fracture in the Republican coalition between the Establishment and its more conservative grass roots has captured the imagination of pundits and gallons of ink.
  • There is a political fracture in town, but it is within the Democrats with moderates breaking with their hard Left compatriots on issue after issue.
  • Speaker Pelosi has shown keen political smarts to the extent that the legislation that passes her body reflects her priorities. But many of her Caucus who were elected from Districts that supported Bush or McCain – or both – in the last two election cycles now must stand by votes cast significantly to the left of center for many of these new Democrats.
  • In contrast to the Bush administration, which put together durable bipartisan coalitions on key legislation with significantly smaller partisan majorities that the Democrats currently hold, it is obvious that the Democrats have become in real life what they accused the Bush administration of doing during the past eight years; an ideological majority bent on hyper-partisan objectives to please their base.
  • And this has implications when one considers a snapshot of public support in the instance of health care reform Congress is considering:
Polling Company RESULTS TIME FRAME
CNN-Opinion Research, Inc. 53-45% Against 10/30-11/1
Ipsos-McClachy 49-39% Against 10/29-11/1
Rasmussen Reports 54-42% Against 11/2
  • This raises the most uncomfortable of issues; legitimacy.  When do the actions of an elected government take on toxic vapors of illegitimacy?
  • This discontent was visible in the elections on Tuesday, and if only in an indirect way, bookended Speaker Pelosi’s rushed vote on health care on Saturday.
  • In addition, recent poll results from Rasmussen may be salient.
  • In the poll, 66% of voters nationwide said that they were at least somewhat angry about the current policies of the federal government, a figure that includes 36% who are very angry. 60% believe neither Republican nor Democratic political leaders have an understanding of what is needed today. Among the very angry, 80% say that neither political party’s leaders have the answers.12
  • It is hard not to believe that we are at a proverbial fork in the road.
  • President Obama, Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid can continue on the road of liberal self interest, or they can compromise and reach out to opponents, at least in their own caucus first, if they are unwilling to reach out beyond to Republicans.
  • If they stay the current course, the Democrats, with a highly partisan and ideological agenda, increasingly ignore the wishes of the electorate at their own catastrophic electoral peril.
  • What greater demonstration of that divide could there be than a House vote to upend health care in the US – a system in which 85% of those that currently have coverage profess satisfaction with it – against general congressional inaction as unemployment numbers have jumped to their highest level in 26 years.
  • Move back from the abyss. Listen to your constituents and be accountable by reaching out for common sense solutions, just as Obama had campaigned.
  • Or Rahm and crowd could take coalition building tips from its much maligned predecessor who did it far better than the current Administration.  If for no other reason for the hyper-political Chicagoans in the White House, Bush won re-election with a larger margin than his first term.

1. Federal Election Commission

2. http://archives.cnn.com/2001/ALLPOLITICS/04/04/
florida.recount.01/

3. Thomas.gov

4. Ibid

5. Ibid

6. Ibid

7. Ibid

8. Federal Election Commission/David Liep Atlas of American Politics

9. Thomas.gov

10. Thomas.gov

11. Washington Post, 11-8-09

12. Rasmussen Reports 11-02-09

8 comments

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