THE IMAGINARY MANDATE

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.

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59 Responses to “THE IMAGINARY MANDATE”

  1. keith Says:

    Why is it conservatives are allowed to be angry and realize electoral success from the emotion, whereas liberals are not (see Dean, Howard, 2004)? Anger from the left in 2004 (and 2000, and 2008…) was (is) justifiable and based in fact. The anger from the right is rather incoherent, if not downright delusional.

  2. Southern Beale Says:

    Keith —

    Oh it's always OK if you are a Republican. Remember during the 2004 campaign, the meme was liberals are "too angry"? Remember that? I do. I remember Harold Ford Jr. telling the Music Row Democrats in Nashville to not be so angry. One woman got up and took the mic and said, "I don't know about you but I'm PISSED OFF!" to cheers from the audience. Hapless Hal told us all we needed to "channel our anger into productive action." Yeah how'd that work out for us?

    Sure, conservatives can show up at rallies with guns strapped to their legs carrying signs threatening revolution and that's just Democracy in action. Liberals show up with signs saying "Republican Walker: Don't F- – – With Wisconsin" (yes the sign used dashes) and right wingers call for the fainting couches.

    It's just another day at the rodeo as far as I'm concerned. There's no rhyme or reason to it. If a liberal does it, it's bad. If a Republican does it, it's wonderful.

    I mean shit, can you imagine if Obama's kids were older and it was revealed during the 2008 campaign that one of the girls was pregnant and unmarried?

  3. jazzbumpa Says:

    Wow — Chris Hayes, subbing for Rachel Maddow, just quoted this blog, and showed this page on the TV screen!

    Let's all have a taco!

    Cheers!
    JzB

  4. jazzbumpa Says:

    Ooops – not this page, but this:

    16.896 Sale or contractual operation of state−owned heating, cooling, and power plants.

    from "Stand and Deliver."

    Anyway – awesome!
    JzB

  5. jan Says:

    It does not surprise me that many people have not read the bill, as you have, Ed. I worked for the Wisconsin Assembly for 31 years, and I guarantee that most legislators didn't bother reading it. The Governor certainly didn't–he pays people for that.

    Please continue to speak truth. Walker is beginning to pay off his political debts, as this no-bid provision proves. It will get much worse. Our only hope here is that voters wise up fast. We have to wait until next January to recall him, but we'll have plenty of support.

    Meanwhile, we need people like you to keep the flame of democracy lit. Fire it up, bucko!

  6. Shelley Says:

    Great article! You hit the nail on the head. As long as people listen to Fox News or similar agenda motivated news, the Conservatives will never truly understand what is going on in Madison. They are so focused on abortion and the Constitution that they don't really care what is happening in WI, OH, and IN, until in the future when it disrupts their little world, which it will in myriad ways we can't even see right now.

  7. karen marie Says:

    I just got back from dropping off a house guest at the airport who is one of those "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."

    He described his political views as "centralist." No, really.

    It was one of the most depressing experiences of my life.

  8. erotyka Says:

    O w koncu znalazlam to czego szukalam od dluzszego okresu czasu, jestem wielce dobrze zaskoczona i z nieklamana ciekawoscia bede zagladac na blog czesciej. Pozdrowienia.