THE IMAGINARY MANDATE

Posted in Rants on February 22nd, 2011 by Ed

I'm as shocked to say this as you are to hear it, but in a strange way I feel bad for Scott Walker. He is facing a backlash – including among some of the people who voted for him – for doing exactly what any moderately informed observer would expect Scott Walker to do once elected Governor of Wisconsin. The situation is roughly similar to that of President Obama, who campaigned on health care reform and then was put through the wringer when he actually proposed it. Walker is in the same boat, the primary difference being substantive (health care reform was intended to help people, whereas Walker's goal seems to be to screw the greatest possible share of the non-investor class). Both Walker and Obama made one of the classic mistakes in American politics: assuming that most of the electorate had the slightest idea of what the candidates stood for when voting for them.

The idea of a "mandate" is probably the most overused and overstated concepts in media coverage of elections. We have known for a long, long time that mandates are essentially a myth (see Robert Dahl's classic "Myth of the Presidential Mandate" from 1990). Elections are to modern politicians what oracles were to the ancient Greeks – all agreed that the oracle is the voice of a god, but everyone present admitted that when it spoke it was not as intelligible as desired. Elections say something about what the public wants. What exactly it says to the elected, however, is subjective and largely a projection of his or her own desires. The Teabagger interprets election as a mandate to Teabag; I imagine that the shock of being disabused of that notion must be great.

Sometimes all of the planets align perfectly, and it amused me to have Walker's mini-revolt happen during the same week as the "revelations" that the Iraqi defector / intelligence source known as "Curveball" (if you ever want to experience boiling blood, check out Bob Drogin's book of the same name) was unabashedly lying his ass off when his statements about Iraqi chemical/nuclear programs, often gleefully reported by Judith Miller, were used by the Bush administration to pave the road to war. In my view, there's no reason to be angry with Mr. Curveball. He was merely an individual acting out of self interest, of which there are about 6 billion on this planet. The anger should be directed at those who consciously chose to believe him even though he was completely, transparently, and perhaps even shockingly full of shit. People like Rumsfeld and Powell are coming forward in full Righteous Indignation mode, flabbergasted that an informant would or could lie. But it was patently obvious at the time that the source was fabricating his story…obvious to everyone except those who wanted to hear and believe exactly what he had to say.

So it is with Scott Walker. The most casual participant in the political process knows exactly what they will get when they vote for and elect Tea Party types and the more extreme right Republicans in general. No, he never came out and said "Hey, I'm gonna ream you public employees so hard you won't walk right for years!" on the campaign trail. He might even have said a lot of sweet sounding things to the contrary. Only a voter lying to himself or completely ignorant of politics, however, would actually believe it. It's time to stop being angry with Scott Walker, which makes no more sense than being angry at a dog for barking and chasing cars. Instead, our anger is more fairly directed at the swing voters who decide American elections – the kind of mushy, ill-informed "independent" who would vote for him and then be shocked to learn how extreme his brand of governance is. People like Walker will continue to get elected so long as there are voters who are willfully ignorant of what candidates really stand for or so easily duped that a few sound bites can overwhelm all available evidence that the Governor-to-be supports an agenda of the kind of corporate cronyism and pathological hatred of government that defines people of his ideological stripes.

When you vote for people like Scott Walker and Ron Johnson, this is what you get. How unfortunate it is that the rest of us have to be chained to so many people who have not yet figured that out. As long as the electorate is composed substantially of people who won't understand that the glowing stove is hot until they put their hand on it, we will continue to suffer Scott Walkers at unpleasantly regular intervals.