One could almost be forgiven for thinking that, at least at the Washington Post, the notion is gaining ground that elections don’t settle anything and in fact are merely diversions from the polls. Such is the implication, at any rate, of the page A1 story two days ago whose head announced breathlessly that “Political Divisions Persist After Election.” Who’d a thunk?
The now to-be-expected announcement that “President Bush will begin his second term in office without a clear mandate to lead the nation” is no longer surprising. Did the Post and its pollsters make similar announcements after Clinton’s and Carter’s elections? I don’t recall, and am too lazy to search. What struck me as exceptionally odd, however, and an indication that presidential elections really amount to no more than unreliable polls was the following question
Do you think the country should go in the direction George W. Bush wants to lead it, go in the direction the Democrats in Congress want to lead it, or what?
Leave aside the mystifying “Or what?” (How is one supposed to answer that: “Whatever”?) 45% of the respondents wanted the country to go in the direction Bush wants to lead, 39% favor the Democrats’ direction, but the remarkable thing here is not the answers but the question. What is the point of asking this question, two months after a presidential election that left the Democrats not only out of the White House for four more years but with smaller minorities in the House and Senate? (But, as long as I’m here, query: how much more substantial would the preference for Bush’s direction have to be for the Post to conclude that he has at least the semblance of a mandate?)
Similarly, responding to the Democrats’ increasingly frustrated demands for some apologies from the administration, Pres. Bush told the Post last week that “Well, we had an accountability moment, and that’s called the 2004 election.”
“Democrats,” the Post reported — reported? No, make that editorialized in its news story — “naturally are fuming.” Naturally! As in, well, of course any reasonable person would be fuming at such an answer.
In the same vein, in the second paragraph of his story today on Rice’s nomination hearing, Glenn Kessler reports that despite acknowledging some bad decisions Rice “still hewed closely to the administration’s policies….” Excuse me, but when did it become news that the National Security Advisor, now nominated to be Secretary of State, “hewed closely” to the policies of the administration she has served for the past four years?
But if there were a contest for the most ridiculous comment about election results, the cake taker would be newly minted Senator and media favorite Barack Obama.
Obama urged Rice to demonstrate independence from the White House line, much as Powell had during his troubled tenure, when he was often at odds with Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. “I think that people felt that he was speaking on behalf of the American people and not simply being a mouthpiece for the administration,” Obama said.
If, in other words, Rice were to stake out an independent position and not be simply a “mouthpiece for the administration,” she would then be “speaking for the American people,” presumably an entity different from the majority of voters in the last election.
It would be delightful to hear Obama’s theory of personal, party, and cabinet responsibility in a democratic republic.