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Democrats are Making the Same Mistake Politicians Have Made for Decades (Washington Examiner) December 13, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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It’s such a classic mistake that it’s difficult to understand why politicians keep making it. They win an election and proceed to overplay their so-called mandate, setting themselves up for failure and positioning their opponents for a rebound. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both did it, and now Democrats are taking their turn after winning a majority in the House of Representatives (while Republicans still hold the Senate and the White House).

First came Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., borrowing a term from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and calling for a revolutionary “first hundred days” for the Congress. All he wants is “Medicare for all,” free college tuition, relief for student debt, a $15 minimum wage and, like the late-night television commercials, wait there’s more. Not to be outdone, the new socialist congresswoman, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., wants no less than a “Green New Deal,” proposing a “national industrial, economic mobilization plan for the transition of the U.S. economy.” She also wants “Medicare for all” and the $15 minimum wage and, while we’re at it, let’s abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Meanwhile in my home state of California, Democrats introduced bills on day one of the post-election legislative session seeking universal early childhood education, Medi-Cal for illegal immigrants, a free second year of community college, and all manner of other proposals to spend the state’s $15 billion surplus — and quickly, lest it go away in a new recession. The only question is whether Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, will follow his predecessor Jerry Brown as the adult in the room, keeping a damper on new spending.

History has not been kind to newly elected officials pursuing dramatic policy changes. Clinton thought he had a mandate in 1993 and went after major healthcare reform, only to be sent home empty-handed. In 2004, George W. Bush famously said he had earned “political capital” in his victory and “now I intend to spend it.” His pet project was Social Security reform, including privatized accounts, and after several months of declining poll numbers and congressional resistance, he backed down.

Political scientists have pointed out the folly of these so-called mandates, starting with Robert A. Dahl’s article, “Myth of the Presidential Mandate” in 1990. The myth is that a vote for the president means the people want whatever policies the president seeks, and that Congress should play along. Alas, life in Washington does not work that way. As political scientists David Brady and Craig Volden point out in their book Revolving Gridlock (2006), the real test of a major reform is whether the median senator (#50 on the conservative-liberal scale) and the median member of Congress (#218) would support the reform. If not, “attempts at dramatic change … will fail,” they conclude.

By that test, all of this pie-in-the-sky legislation will surely fail. Only President Roosevelt has carried out dramatic policy change in the last 100 years, and that was in the wake of the Great Depression. Perhaps politicians like Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez think the Great Recession will be enough to fuel a new New Deal, but that song will not play in Washington, especially in this polarized federal government. The only real case for the bold Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez proposals is to use their ideas rhetorically in an effort to reposition the Democratic Party. They might succeed in that battle, but it will likely cause the party to lose the war in the next election.

So, Democrats, knock yourselves out. Order up new legislation with those eyes too big for your stomachs. Proceed, as they say in football, to outkick your coverage. Make haste toward that bridge too far. Overreach your limited electoral mandate. Try to out-Roosevelt Franklin Roosevelt and create your own green or new New Deal.

It will prove again what politicians should have learned by now — there is no electoral mandate for major policy change.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/democrats-are-making-the-same-mistake-politicians-have-made-for-decades

 

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