Mandate Inconsistency

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Whether the new Democratic Congress will maintain their control over the legislative branch of government depends largely, I think, on one thing. Will the new Democratic leadership turn over a new leaf in terms of how they run the Congress? I'm not talking about whether they will adopt new policies, ones favored by the Democrats. Of course they'll do that. I'm not even talking about whether they pass new rules at handling corruption. I'm talking about whether they will rule with the iron fist that they have complained about Republicans ruling with for so long. I'm talking about whether they will claim the mandate that they insisted Republicans did not have for so long. If they govern from a moderately left position and do not allow the kinds of restrictions of the minority they've complained about coming from the Republicans, they will show to those who elected them that they have been faithful to that trust.

I'm not sure this will happen. History tells us that whenever an oppressed people manages to revolt against their oppressors, they set up a regime as oppressive as the one they were under, this time against the original oppressors. The same sort of thing can happen politically as well. We started off nicely right after the election, with President Bush and presumed future Speaker Nancy Pelosi (is she really the only Democrat running for the position the way people are assuming when they call her the next speaker?) indicating their willingness to compromise and with commentators talking about how this Congress will be forced to govern from the center given that many of the positions currently occupied by Republicans who lost will in January be occupied by Democrats who are more moderate, some economically and some socially.

On the other hand, the change in leadership will have a hard time satisfying the independent voters who were largely responsible for the Democrats' victory while simultaneously satisfying their base, two groups who want very different things right now. What's worse is that I'm already seeing warning signs from Rep. Pelosi that she is moving more in the direction the base prefers. It remains to be seen whether the tactics the Republicans used to govern the House will continue under new leadership, but on the issues I'm seeing red flags that many might take to be a betrayal of trust.

I'm seeing the term 'election postmortem' from the base, as if Republicans are no longer going to be present in the Congress to have any effect whatsoever. There are also lots of calls for policy changes that moderates are not going to endorse. That seems odd given the left's constant critique of the Bush Administration acting as if they had a mandate after the 2004 elections. A great number of the particular elections that put the Democrats in charge were much closer than the 118,599-vote margin that gave President Bush a second term. If he had no mandate for his conservative agenda due to the closeness of that election, as people on the left have constantly insisted, then surely the new Democratic leadership in Congress has no mandate other than to govern from the center. Now maybe it's ok to act as if you have a mandate when you're the winner, but you can't hold that view if you complained about Bush doing exactly that when his basis for claiming a mandate was at least a little stronger.

But that is the base. It's possible the Congressional leadership will be above all that. I'm not so sure myself. I'm seeing the presumed Speaker of the House endorsing a Majority Leader who is far to the left of any moderates. This indicates that she seems to want to favor the base in its more extreme positions as exemplified by Rep. Murtha. This isn't the only sign of how things are going, but it is noteworthy. Her insistence that impeachment is not an option seems to indicate in the other direction, but I'm not convinced she understands that opposition to Bush Iraq policy does not entail respect for Murtha or his position. Many moderates and independents think the guy is a nut.

I have no idea what the House rules will be like under the new leadership. The desire to give Republicans a taste of their own medicine will be a real temptation, and the iron fist rule the Democrats have long complained about seems to me to be a real possibility. But of course they may abide by their convictions (or rather show that they were genuine convictions to begin with rather than just sour grapes). I just want to say now that they had better if they want to remain (or at least appear) consistent. The charge of "you did it first" is not a legitimate moral justification if what the Republicans had been doing was wrong to begin with, as they had claimed, and it will serve to enrage many moderates and independents in the electorate who will feel betrayed if the ones now given power go and do what they had originally voted the Republicans out of office for having done. It shouldn't just enrage moderates and independents, of course. It should enrage even any Democrats who care about consistency. It's just hard to expect consistency with the kind of partisan politics we usually end up with nowadays.

Update 11-15-06 11:09 am: I heard Harry Reid this morning saying that he is not going to run the Senate the way the Republicans have. So he hasn't forgotten this issue. I have heard nothing on this issue from Nancy Pelosi about the House, but I suppose once her election is secure she might make a similar statement given that he has already said something about this.

Update 2 11-15-06 4:43 pm: On the other hand, Harry Reid said last week that the country had spoken loud and clear. So he seems to be doing well so far with how to run the Senate but not so well on the mandate issue.

Update 3 11-15-06 10:41 pm: Here's something from Pelosi: "Leader Pelosi looks forward to working with the Blue Dogs in the 110th Congress," said Jennifer Crider, Pelosi's spokeswoman. "They are important voices in our diverse caucus." Well, working with conservative Democrats is a start. It's not quite working with moderate Republicans or especially mainstream Republicans, but it's something.

Update 4 11-16-06 5:28 pm: Steny Hoyer was on Chris Matthews at the beginning of the hour. He said several things, and I'm not sure the whole package was consistent, but I didn't quite hear them all well with the kids making their usual noise. One thing I got very clearly, though, was that he said he thought they would adopt a policy whereby the Democratic leadership would not move forward on any legislation that the Democratic House membership did not as a majority support, even if the House as a whole supported it. So if all of the Republicans and enough blue dogs and other moderates among the Democrats were to favor a policy, the House leadership would still not act on it.

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