Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Define the Mandate! -- Reflections by Steve on the U.S. Election

I suspect that the day after the U.S. elected Barack Obama as president, the mood on Oxford University’s campus reflected that across many campuses across the U.S. Several of my classmates stayed up the night before to watch the results and celebrate Obama's win. The Middle Common Room of Pembroke College the morning after had lots of beer bottles strewn about. And I was asked many times if I wasn’t pleased with the results, given my American citizenship.

I didn’t vote for Obama, so no, I wasn’t particularly pleased. But that’s not why I’m writing—what I want to consider here is the ‘mandate’ that Obama now has from the people. When Lisa and I were leaving Virginia in mid-September, I recall that Obama and McCain were running neck-to-neck. The ‘Palin effect’ was the talk of the news, and for a time it seemed that Obama might actually have real competition.

So, what happened? In a word, the ‘economy’. Yes, it didn’t help that Sarah Palin came across as scripted and unable to respond creatively in interviews. But what seemed to tip the balance was the financial crisis, and a feeling that McCain would continue the policies of de-regulation that Bush had followed during his presidency.

It’s good that Obama is focusing on the economy—frankly, he must if he wants to stay in power. His comfortable margin in the polls depends upon it. But Obama is wrong if he thinks that his ‘mandate’ is much wider than that. Yes, Iraq and energy prices are on people’s minds. But actually there are fewer differences here between Democrats and Republicans than one might think. Bush has already begun withdrawing troops from Iraq, and no-one (except the unions perhaps) disagrees that America needs to re-tool its car industry to become more energy efficient. Even American oil companies have a vested interest in change, especially when the governments of nations like Russia and Venezuela nationalize American companies and steal American technology and infrastructure.

What Obama does not have is a mandate for change on social issues. The Los Angeles Times, for example, reported that 70 percent of the black and Hispanic population in California (one of Obama's key constituent voter-blocks) backed a proposal to ban gay marriage. Now someone like Frank Rich at the New York Times might shrug that off as 'retro', but to me this suggests Obama shouldn't assume too much. Yes, it's true Democrats gained some seats in Congress, but it was hardly a wave, and some of the new faces are conservatives like Walt Minnick, a Republican-turned-Democrat in Idaho, and Glenn Nye in Virgina.

I wonder, though, whether Obama (or the New York Times) is paying attention. Obama's track record in the Senate shows that he’s kow-towed many times to the Left, and there’s no reason to think he won’t as president. He's already promised to repeal the ban on the barbaric practice of partial-birth abortion (which the Supreme Court ruled illegal). He’ll encourage embryonic stem cell research (which is little more than killing children to use their cells) when adult stem cells are shown to be productive. And he’ll require that any Christian charities who wish to take advantage of federal money must not ‘discriminate’ in their hiring practices against people who aren’t Christians. As Christianity Today put it, they won’t be getting many takers with that kind of policy.

Many Christians now are saying we need to pray for the president, even if we don't agree with his policies and didn't vote for him. Let us pray for Obama, yes. But let us also seek to hold him accountable to do the things he was elected to do ... and no more.

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