Predictably, some folks on the American Right seem in denial that much of anything has changed or is going to change with Tuesday’s election. You see that happen sometimes when people suffer a stunning setback. Instead of being able to wrap their minds around the setback, they simply deny anything happened.
For instance, theocon Tony Perkins appeared a bit traumatized when he stated yesterday, “There [is] clearly no mandate to shift the country to the left on social issues.” On the same day, ultra-right-winger Brent Bozell claimed: “…Barack Obama does not have the mandate to enact the left-wing agenda he wants to enact.” And other examples of the Right’s stunned denial of reality can be found here.
Along with their absurd rejection of President-elect Obama’s mandate, the Right is advising him to “govern from the center”. Obama strikes me as an intelligent man, and so I suppose he lacks the foolishness to take their advice. As explained here, the electorate knew precisely what policies they were voting for on Tuesday, and they voted overwhelmingly for policies that in American politics are considered “leftist”. So, Obama’s mandate is to implement those policies even though they are considered by many to be left-wing policies.
Yet, there is a far larger and more important reason for Obama to implement the policies he campaigned on rather than seek out the imagined advantages of the political center. Obama has now gained an opportunity to politically realign the the voting preferences of the American electorate. In my opinion, that is the real story of Tuesday’s election — and not whether Obama gained a mandate.
If Obama succeeds in favorably realigning the electorate, then the Democratic Party will become the majority party in America. He has already moved far towards realizing that goal. It’s anyone’s guess, however, whether the millions who voted for him in presidential election will now become loyal Democrats. So the question is, what might incline them to become loyal Democrats?
I don’t think Obama will convert many people to the Democratic Party by discussing ideology with them. There are relatively few Americans who really give a damn about ideology. Most of us have as much use for it as we have for a college course in the philosophy of politics. And that seems to be true despite the fact our right-wing Authoritarian minority is hugely movtivated by ideology. But those folks just aren’t typical of most Americans.
Overall, Americans are a pragmatic people. They don’t want to know whether something is right, left or center — they want to know how and whether it works. For instance, abstinence only sex education is the ideological policy, and it doesn’t work. Comprehensive sex education is the pragmatic policy, and it does work. Guess which policy the polls indicate a majority of Americans favor? Most Americans do not — and will not — care whether Obama’s policies are ideologically pure. Instead, they will want policies that work. And work to solve the problems that concern them.
Consequently, if Obama succeeds in realigning the electorate, it will not be because he chooses the “correct” ideology to govern by, but because he chooses to govern pragmatically. The silly advice to “govern from the center” will only result in disaster if it means in practice adopting policies that don’t work well enough to impress the voters. So in sum, Obama’s best chance to realign the electorate is to successfully implement policies that work, regardless of their ideological label, to solve the problems facing us. If he manages that, the American people will thumb their noses at ideological purity and back him all the way.