Obama’s focus on small things in election cost him his mandate
Published: Sunday, November 11, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 17:11
In 2008, then Sen. Barack Obama said while accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination for President that “If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone to run from. You make a big election about small things.”
In 2012, while seeking re-election, he did exactly that.
The election has been over for about a week now, and many Republicans remain stunned that President Obama was able to win a second term despite record unemployment, unpopular legislative achievements and losing independents.
How did he do it? Instead of running on a positive, policy based agenda, he ran against Mitt Romney. He painted Romney as someone who would be so terrible for the middle class, unemployed and the country as a whole and that he should be run from. He made an election where entitlement reform, long term fiscal health and other big ideas could have been talked about into an election about Big Bird, Binders, Birth Control and Bayonets.
While Romney and Paul Ryan were bringing white boards to draw out diagrams of how their medicare system would work, Joe Biden brought a binder to wave around while he whined about Romney’s silly quote “Binders full of women.”
It obviously worked for them, but I doubt that someone as high-minded as President Obama, idealistic as he is, would be proud of how he won this election. I’m sure he’s happy he did, but for a man who ran as such a post-partisan candidate in 2008 I find it hard to believe that he’s proud of the hyper-partisan way he campaigned this time around.
President Obama’s entire campaign was focused on avoiding the one central issue of the campaign: the economy. The campaign played down the bad economic news and consistently used distractions like discussing Romney’s tax returns, his supposed plans to fire Big Bird, and the fabled “War on Women.”
The way that he campaigned will hurt him in his second term. However, because he made the election about small things and he has no mandate to do big things. One of Obama’s chief strategists, David Axelrod, admitted as much in the days following the election, calling claims of a mandate “foolish.” Vice President Joe Biden does seem to think there is a mandate for higher taxes, but considering that a very anti-tax Republican house was re-elected as well, no clear mandate on taxes seems to have been given.
Governing in his second term will likely be more difficult for the President, because he will not be able to claim a mandate.
A mandate would have given Obama a reason to pursue policies, a reason to say “I was re-elected because people wanted this legislation passed,” and without it, the case he can make for each legislative priority he wants to pass is much more limited.
Of the things he might be able to claim a mandate on, gay marriage for example, Obama has already backed down. He said on MTV recently that he won’t be fighting for gay marriage in his second term, despite prominently featuring his support of it in his campaign.
This focus on “small things” may have won him the election, but it was not a smart move if he’s interested in getting “big things” done in his second term.
Keene is a junior majoring in political science, economics and public policy.