In response to last week’s “right thinking” article: Voters don’t “give themselves” mandates. You are not splitting hairs, you are just not making any sense. By practical definition, a mandate is a command given to a representative by his or her constituents. In most majority-vote situations, a mandate is not decreed unless the elected representative has won by a large margin. However, considering that Bush did not really win in the 2000 election by any reasonable standards, he can claim some sort of directive now.
The word “mandate” has been utterly abused in the post-election. In the past week, this term, along with “political capital,” has been thrown around by the media and by the political (psuedo-)intelligentsia.
To be as clear as possible, Bush does not have a general mandate from the American public to either reform social security or simplify the tax code. The people who voted for the President did not vote for him because of social security reform or tax simplification. This is very obvious to anyone who read the exit polls. This election was about social conservatism (“moral values” has been getting repetitive), the Iraq war and terrorism, and the pervasive effect of the politics of fear.
This is not to say that Bush did not receive a mandate; his stunning re-election is certainly evidence for this. 59 million of the electorate has given our President these following instructions: protect us from terrorists, uphold strong moral conviction, and, perhaps most salient of all the issues, do not flip flop.