It happens every four years, like clockwork. It is arguably the most predictable thing that will ever come out of the mouths of newly elected, or freshly re-elected politicians of both parties regardless of whether their victory was a margin so slim that less than a dozen voters made the difference, or if it was a stunning landslide. Even the second term of Bill Clinton heard echoes of it, and he won by a mere plurality.
The dictionary definition of the word mandate is "a command or authorization to act in a particular way on a public issue given by the electorate to its representative".
All politicians claim that the voters have given them a mandate to govern. But do they really?
If a clear majority of citizens understood clearly what Barack Obama planned to do in his second term, and supported that plan, and then voted for Obama, he might reasonably claim to have a mandate from the electorate. They would have given him that "command or authorization to act in a particular way on a public issue" that he claims to possess.
However two things argue persuasively that Obama was denied the possibility of having a mandate that he so desperately wants in order to justify his every action for the next four years. And he was denied that mandate by his own actions.
The first thing is that he never provided the electorate with a detailed plan for his second term. The voters could therefore not possibly "command [him]...to act in a particular way on a public issue". No public issues were defined so clearly in terms of intent, cost and expected outcome that the electorate could possibly make a rational choice to instruct the new president to carry that "public issue" to conclusion.
So Obama's intentionally vague plan for a second term argues against him having anything resembling a mandate.
The second thing that Obama did to deny himself a mandate was spend hundreds of millions of dollars vilifying Mitt Romney and doing everything that the power of TV advertising could do to convince voters to be afraid of Romney. The voters were effectively told "Ignore the plans this man is telling you about. He is the devil incarnate. He will bring back slavery. He will subjugate women. He will deport anyone with a Hispanic surname."
Now all politicians lie. That can't be helped, since they can hide their lies behind the First Amendment and their Super-PACs.
But, when you encourage people to vote against the other candidate, they aren't voting for you. And if they haven't voted for you, then they are certainly not voting to validate your plans, regardless of what those plans might be.
So Mr. Obama does not have a mandate, regardless of how eloquently his speech writers say that on his teleprompter.
It is up to us, individually and collectively, to communicate to the still gullible that every single thing that Obama does from today forward is subject to criticism, and if needed withering criticism. We must make sure that majority knows that they elected this man, but they didn't convey a mandate. He's still fair game.
Jim Yardley is a retired financial controller for a variety of manufacturing firms, a Vietnam veteran and an independent voter. Jim blogs at http://jimyardley.wordpress.com/, or he can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org