Obama’s `Mandate:’ Political Capital Earns No Long-Term Interest

At his first post-reelection news conference in 2004, a clearly emboldened President George W. Bush proclaimed at his podium in the West Wing:  “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.”

At President Barack Obama’s first post-reelection news conference this week, an equally confident president said at the same podium:  “I’ve got one mandate. I’ve got a mandate to help middle-class families and families that are working hard to try to get into the middle class. That’s my mandate.”

Bush spent that capital in short order, campaigning across the country for a plan to allow retirees to invest some of their Social Security savings in private investment accounts. After several months on the road, he wore out his welcome with a plan that no apparent public support and no substantial backing on Capitol Hill.

Obama also has a somewhat leavened view of the political capital that he possesses.

“I don’t presume that because I won an election that everybody suddenly agrees with me on everything,” he said at his news conference yesterday. “I’m more than familiar with all the literature about presidential overreach in second terms. We are very cautious about that. On the other hand, I didn’t get reelected jut to bask in reelection.”

At the same time, the president is reading plenty into his reelection — a narrow majority in the popular vote, with 50.6 percent to Republican Mitt Romney’s 47.8 percent, and a commanding majority in the Electoral College Count: 332-206. And he is reading it with an eye toward the political capital he has to spend on a tax increase for the wealthiest Americans.

`I mean, this shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody,” Obama said. “If there was one thing that everybody understood was a big difference between myself and Mr. Romney, it was when it comes to how we reduce our deficit, I argued for a balanced, responsible approach, and part of that included making sure that the wealthiest Americans pay a little bit more.”

He noted that more people support the concept than those who actually voted for him. In the exit polling conducted on Election Day, six in 10 voters said taxes should be increased, and almost half said taxes should be boosted on Americans earning more than $250,000 a year. Only about one-third of those surveyed said taxes should not be increased.

So the president enters the talks over the so-called “fiscal cliff” with a perceived strong hand in his bid to let the Bush-era tax cuts expire for households earning more than $250,000 a year. And what makes his hand far stronger than Bush’s bid to privatize part of Social Security is, as Obama put it, “the very clear deadline” looming at year’s end — an expiration of tax cuts across the board coupled with automatic spending cuts if Congress takes no action that threaten an economic slowdown. He also is working with an enlarged Democratic majority in the Senate and Republicans there looking for an agreement.

The president may have a more tempered understanding of the political capital he holds post reelection, yet, like Bush, he won’t have long to spend it in this fight.

 

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