Four more years. Four more years. Four more years … of what?
That’s pretty much the way the political conversation went Tuesday night, at least based on what I saw on television. Just minutes after the networks declared President Obama the winner, and while Karl Rove was still ranting to Fox colleagues about Mitt Romney's Ohio numbers, pundits were already starting a debate over whether the election gave Obama a mandate—and, if so, what that mandate entailed.
It’s a reasonable and important question. But before we get to it, let’s not forget that the significance of this election is as much about the past as the future. And that shouldn't diminish it.
Romney and the Republicans had turned the election into a referendum on liberalism—not just the liberalism of Obama, but also the liberalism of Johnson and Kennedy, of Truman and Roosevelt. They proposed massive, fundamental changes to the welfare state and wholesale rollbacks of women’s rights, and challenged the philosophy behind such policies—the whole idea that governments should act to protect vulnerable groups and to guarantee economic security.
It was a huge gambit. And it failed. But conservatives aren’t going to drop their agenda. Come January, Paul Ryan will be back in the House of Representatives, running the budget committee, and he’ll find plenty of allies on and off Capitol Hill. But proposals to make Medicare a voucher program, to decimate Medicaid and food stamps, to reduce federal spending by unprecedented increments—those proposals have almost no chance of becoming law, at least in the forseeable future.