The Magazine

Mandate for What?

Obama has good reason to make the left gnash their teeth.

Dec 15, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 13 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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Many of these no doubt were the people who switched to McCain when the conventions were over, and then, after the financial crash and Republicans' stunning display of incompetence, turned back to Obama again. In other words, a sizable chunk of the people who gave a victory to Obama and his left-of-center agenda on November 4 were willing only weeks earlier to give a hearing to the center-right, more pro-war agenda of the McCain-Palin ticket, and then were pushed back into the Democrats' column by a sequence of extreme events. Without these events, the Democrats still might have won, but it would have been closer and the congressional results might have looked very different. Norm Coleman would probably not now be in a recount in Minnesota, and Saxby Chambliss would no doubt never have been in a run-off at all.

Obama's win was an impressive one and marked a genuine willingness to try more liberal government. But it is also likely that his win on Election Day was enhanced and inflated, less by the appeal of his agenda and party than by conditions not of his making, and by circumstances beyond his control.

Barack Obama did not get where he is now by being an idiot, and he knows much better than many of his backers how he was elected. He knows how slim was the margin by which he won over Hillary Clinton, who ran at the end as a liberal hawk; and he knows that the people who were willing in the first weeks of September to vote for McCain did not vote for either a far-left economic agenda or for a lost war in Iraq.

He knows, too, that the country's governing center lies in the space between himself and his two former rivals, and not, as some think, off to one side. This is why Saxby Chambliss improved on his lead, why Obama refused to be drawn into the run-off in Georgia, and why, after campaigning against the whole Clinton-Bush era, he is bringing back some of its people and policies, adopting the Clinton economic team and some of the Bush guidelines for the war on terror, and giving the prize spots in his national security roster to George Bush's defense secretary, John McCain's ally, and Bill Clinton's wife. Peculiar conditions padded his lead, but he has to govern the country as it exists now and in the future, and not as it was in that brief span between September 15 and the fourth of November that is now in the rearview mirror and quickly fading into the past.

Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.