November 16, 2004 | Commentary on Social Security
Never mind the 59.4 million Americans--a
record number--who voted for President Bush. Forget that he's the
first man since his father in 1988 to win a nationwide majority.
According to numerous commentators on the left, Bush still hasn't
earned a mandate.
"The risk for Republicans is that they overinterpret the election," New York University political analyst Paul Light told the Arizona Republic. "I don't see a clear message for President Bush here."
Neither does Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne: "A 51-48 percent victory is not a mandate," he claimed.
Adds Peter Beinart of the New Republic: "Already, the president is claiming a mandate for partial Social Security privatization and regressive changes in the tax code, even though he rarely campaigned on these issues and there is no evidence the American public voted for them."
In fact, the president does have a mandate on a number of key issues, topics he talked about repeatedly on the campaign trail.
For example, he made it a point to discuss Social Security reform. That's usually political suicide, which is no doubt why Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry treated it the old-fashioned way: He promised to do nothing. "I will not privatize it. I will not cut the benefits," he announced.
Meanwhile, Bush was going out on a limb. "I believe that younger workers ought to be allowed to take some of their own money and put it in a personal savings account, because I understand that they need to get better rates of return than the rates of return being given in the current Social Security trust," he said.
This is a sensible approach. Allowing younger workers to invest a portion of their payroll taxes in personal accounts would enable even the lowest-wage employees to build a substantial nest egg for retirement.
The president recognizes the importance of reform. "The cost of doing nothing," he told reporters after the election, "is much greater than the cost of reforming the system today." In fact, sensible reform would cost about $20 trillion less than the status quo. By taking a stand during the campaign, the president has earned political capital on Social Security.
The future of marriage also was on the ballot. In February, President Bush announced, "If we are to prevent the meaning of marriage from being changed forever, our nation must enact a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in America." The president deliberately picked the most difficult path. And indeed, the proposed amendment was eventually stalled by procedural measures in the Senate.
But Bush wants the people to decide. "Decisive and democratic action is needed because attempts to redefine marriage in a single state or city could have serious consequences throughout the country," Bush has said.
His position has overwhelming popular support. This year, 11 states had ballot measures to protect marriage. All passed handily. In Arkansas and Georgia, the vote was 75-25 in favor. And even in less conservative states like Michigan and Oregon, voters cast their ballots 60-40 to protect traditional marriage.
It's worth noting that Bush took his stand only after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court voted to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the mayor of San Francisco violated state law by granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples and a county in New Mexico started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Activists forced the president's hand.
Bush says the people--not the courts or a handful of rogue local officials--should define marriage. That's why he should press Congress to move ahead on the marriage amendment and bring this critical issue to the voters.
Finally, for the first time in many elections, world affairs played a dominant role. And voters endorsed President Bush's foreign policy.
Iraq dominated the presidential debates. And during the final week of the campaign, Kerry focused attention on the president's supposed failure to secure Saddam Hussein's stockpiles of explosives after the Iraq war.
Throughout the campaign, Bush was adamant that Iraq was a critical part of the greater war against terrorism. He insisted that, in a second term, he'd continue acting aggressively against our enemies and using the American military to spread freedom and democracy around the globe, as we're already doing in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The president was also pilloried over a phantom plan to "bring back the draft."
Yet after all the discussion and all the attacks, voters chose to stay with the president.
Some 120 million Americans voted on Nov. 2. That's 60 percent of registered voters, the highest turnout since 1968, when the nation was also at war.
They heard the president's conservative plans for America, and as much as it may pain our liberal friends to hear it, most people liked what they heard.
And that's a mandate.
Ed Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington.
First appeared in The Chicago Tribune