Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared on one of the Sunday shows yesterday, and seemed a little too eager to repeat one talking point, ad nauseum. See if you can pick up on the subtlety of his message:
“[T]he question is are we going to keep the commitment we made to the American people a year and a half ago, a bipartisan agreement signed by the president, that we would reduce spending without raising taxes by this amount of money in this fiscal year?
“And here we are, a year and a half later, with the president trying to walk away from the commitment we made to the American people…. We’ve got to begin to cut spending. And we promised the American people we’d do it a year and a half ago and we’re going to do it. […]
“I’m absolutely confident we’re going to reduce spending the amount of money that we promised the American people we would in a law the president signed a year and a half ago.”
Over the course of a not-terribly-long interview, McConnell said eight times that the sequester has to be replaced with a 100%-to-0% deal in Republicans’ favor because – you guessed it – it was a “commitment” Republicans made “to the American people.”
Let’s pause to remember that repetition of a ridiculous talking point does not make it any less absurd.
In the larger context, there are two angles to keep in mind when evaluating McConnell’s argument. The first is a simple matter of recent history – he believes it was accepted by all that the sequestration agreement would be replaced without so much as a dime of new revenue. There is no version of reality in which this is true.
The second has to do with an amorphous concept known as a political “mandate.”
For McConnell, this is simple: Republicans “promised” and made a “commitment” to “the American people” to slash public investments, and so now GOP official feel a responsibility to follow through. At the same time, President Obama also “promised” and made a “commitment” to “the American people” that he would pursue a balanced compromise, which included concessions from both sides, and which would include both spending cuts and revenue.
If only there was some mechanism through which the American electorate could consider both competing “promises” and choose a direction for the nation’s future.
Oh wait, there is. I think the technical term for the mechanism is “the 2012 elections.”
The “American people” heard both sides and decided not to back McConnell’s preference. To hear him tell it, Republicans don’t have much of a choice – if they compromise now, they’ll be breaking a commitment they made to the entire country. It’s better, the senator argues, for the president to abandon the platform he presented to the nation in advance of his re-election fight.
In other words, McConnell seems to think he and his party have a mandate – Republicans “made a commitment,” voters went to the polls, and now the GOP has to keep its promise. But what McConnell may have forgotten is the inconvenient detail: his party lost. Voters didn’t like the Republican “promise,” and instead threw their support to the Democratic “promise.” All of the polling evidence since Election Day shows, by a wide margin, that the American mainstream still prefers the White House’s approach, and only about one-in-five voters Americans agrees with the Republicans’ no-compromise approach.
McConnell is certainly entitled to believe the electorate is wrong and voters backed the wrong team. But he shouldn’t pretend the “American people” are on his side when they’re not.