Even Bush himself has been telling the press that he has "the people at my back" (or is that backside?) -- in the process of making clear to everyone considering crossing those bridges they say they're building what the reality is: It's "my way or the highway."
But the entire press corps has bought into the myth of Bush's "mandate." Indeed, it's all any of them can seem to talk about.
Now, just as an experiment, I went back and checked, because I thought I remembered that Bill Clinton cleaned Bob Dole's clock in 1996 by a substanitally wider margin. Sure enough, the final figures were:
- Bill Clinton 47,402,357 49%
Bob Dole 39,198,755 41%
Ross Perot 8,085,402 8%
In other words, Clinton won by a margin of of 8 percent of the popular vote -- 8.2 million.
Did the "liberal media" declare that Clinton had a clear mandate from the people?
The mainstream press instead proclaimed that Clinton had been given "a message, not a mandate".
Their reasoning: Clinton still faced a Republican Congress. Of course, Democrats did win back six seats in the House that year, shrinking Newt Gingirch's power substantially. But the GOP gained two Senate seats.
In contrast, of course, the GOP gained both in the House and the Senate this year. One could argue, of course, that this makes up the difference.
But the truth is somewhere in between. If you weigh the criteria, you'll see that Clinton's 8-point win was nearly three times the size of Bush's, while he actually oversaw a net gain in Congress as well.
Bush's sweep, at the same time, was hardly so concrete. He failed to capture a single state in the Northeast or on the Pacific Coast. The outcome of the election, in fact, remained in doubt until the night's votes were counted in Ohio -- the only state in the upper Midwest that he did carry.
But he did win clearly -- even if you believe that he won fraudulently in Ohio and Florida (for which I have yet to see any concrete evidence), his 3-million-plus majority cannot be so easily explained away. I think electoral-college wins without the popular majority rest on tenuous ground, and frankly, I wouldn't have wanted to see a John Kerry presidency hampered by that kind of baggage. Factoring in the popular vote, there's no mistaking that the man a (not terribly substantial) majority of Americans wanted to see President is in the White House.
But a clear victory is not a clear mandate. Republicans like to brag that Bush received more votes for president than any Republican in history, but at the same time, John Kerry garnered more Democratic votes than any other candidate. Bush's numbers were impressive, but so were Kerry's.
It's clear that 48 percent of the nation, at least, strongly disapproves of the direction George Bush is taking the country. That was Bush's "message" in the election as well, though the press seems not to have noticed that this time around. Funny how that works.
Until Bush takes steps to genuinely include that 48 percent in the process (hey, can we get into any public Bush appearances now?), and to treat their concerns with more than smirking dismissal, then he's not going to be president of all the people.
And until he is that, he cannot claim a real mandate.