No Mandate for Obama on Spending

“But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.”

-- President Obama in his second inaugural address.

Choosing something and liking something are two different things.

Every day, Americans choose dentists to perform their root canals. This does not mean that they like the procedure. It just means they find it superior to having a throbbing toothache.

And so it was in the 2012 election. Americans may have chosen to give President Obama a second term either by voting for him or choosing not to vote at all. But that only means they found Obama a better choice than Mitt Romney.

Obama has taken his victory to be a fungible, expanding mandate for a broad slate of policy provisions. But the election was, for most voters and non-voters, the choice between a root canal and a toothache.

There have been recent ratifying elections, 1996 and 1984, in which the policies and approaches of an incumbent president have been given a big green light. But in a binary political system, it is also possible to have voters choose to retain an incumbent, but not ratify his policies.

Obama did win a mandate on the issue of tax increases on top earners. It was part of his personal attacks on Romney and a core part of his campaign message. Similarly, his predecessor won a broader, but still limited, mandate to continue fighting the war in Iraq.

But Obama has already used his mandate, winning an increase in tax rates on individuals making more than $400,000 per year. The taxes went up and the proceeds were already spent on an aid package for victims of Hurricane Sandy. So that’s that.

As for the rest of what Obama says his mandate contains, he may have a point on the issue of gay marriage. He ran a campaign in which he enthusiastically embraced gay issues and celebrated gay Americans. Public opinion seems to be tracking with his choice (or vice versa) so Obama may be right that America is behind him on this one.

And Obama gets a partial mandate as well on immigration. He made his support of amnesty for illegal immigrants a core part of his campaign, particularly as he was firing up his base for a grinding win in a root canal-versus-toothache kind of election. That doesn’t mean Americans don’t want preconditions and safeguards, it just means that Obama was riding the zeitgeist on this issue.

But on the core of Obama 2.0 -- his call for more deficit spending to revive the torpid economy and “invest” in the middle class – its clear that Obama hasn’t got the juice.

The proof of this is in the latest round of polling, particularly the latest FOX News poll that tests the central arguments of the ongoing budget battles in Washington.

The FOX News poll, as well as a new survey from Quinnipiac University, show Obama’s job-approval rating has drifted back down to pre-election levels. The boost he got from the win, his success in seeking a top tax hike and the pageantry of his second inauguration have drifted away and Obama is back where he was before.


But more telling is where voters stand on the big issues of the day.

On the question of what is better for the economy, cutting federal spending or increasing it, voters surveyed for the FOX News poll said by a nearly 5-to-1 margin that cuts were the way to go. Voters disagreed with Obama’s assertion that Washington doesn’t have a spending problem by a margin of 6-to-1.

Respondents said by a 2-to-1 margin that the nation is weaker now than before Obama took office. They may not all blame him, but they certainly don’t think his policies have been effective. The poll found nearly the same lopsided margin when it came to the question of whether Obama’s stimulus worked. Only 34 percent thought it did.

Obama is seeking a political realignment away from the belief, cemented in the 1980s and 1990s, that government spends too much, does too much, regulates too much and hurts the economy more than it helps.

He is seeking a European or Asian model in which the national government and business are partners and the government directs part of citizens’ incomes into enterprises that the government deems desirable: solar panel makers, public research facilities, etc.

Our government does much of this already. Obama, who meant it when he said of business owners “you didn’t build that,” would like to see much more.

He would also like to see the federal government support initiatives across the country to train, teach, aid and support middle class workers and workers to be. The government, in this scenario, would partner with desirable businesses to expand their enterprises and then help train workers for the desirable enterprises.

Again, the federal government already does this, but Obama would like to see a seamless integration between education, social welfare programs and the creation of jobs in desirable enterprises, all overseen by highly trained experts in the federal government. Obama acknowledges that this would be very expensive, very difficult and hugely time consuming, but tells us that it is worth doing to create an economy he says will be “built to last.”

The “sustainable” growth from this spending and economic oversight, Obama says, will eventually allow the government to stop borrowing money and raising taxes and, in future decades, to start retiring the federal debt, which by then will be well beyond $20 trillion.

To get there, Obama needs to break the resistance of Republicans in the House. He needs them to stop running around trying to cut everything and blocking his calls for more taxing and borrowing.

But as we careen from one fiscal crisis to the next, Republicans know that voters are still on their side when it comes to the question of cutting versus spending. The next fight over looming automatic spending cuts looks like a good one for the GOP since Obama wants lawmakers to act to raise taxes again in order to prevent the spending cuts. He’s seeking a doubly unpopular plan while simply by not acting and allowing the cuts to occur, Republicans will be on the side of public sentiment.

The reason is that voters disagree with the president’s economic approach. They always have and likely always will. Do recall that Romney beat Obama in exit polls on the issue of the economy, the number one issue for voters last year.

As Obama tries to expand his mandate to spending and the economy, he will learn the difference between a choice and a mandate.

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET  at