Advice to be ignored

ADVICE TO BE IGNORED…. We’ll know soon enough whether Democrats have a good Election Day or not, but Doug Schoen is already urging the party not to perceive potentially sweeping victories as an endorsement of the Democratic agenda.

Stated simply, if the Democrats conclude that they have a mandate to implement their agenda without real consultation with the Republicans, as Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island suggested in an interview with the New York Times last weekend, the country will be headed for trouble.

Real trouble.

This election is not a mandate for Democratic policies. Rather, it is a wholesale rejection of the policies of George W. Bush, Republicans, and to a lesser extent, John McCain.

I see. So, if voters turn out in record numbers, elect Democrats to control almost everything, and deliver a “wholesale rejection” of conservative Republicans, Democrats shouldn’t consider this a mandate for change. Indeed, as far as Schoen is concerned, if Democratic policy makers try to implement Democratic policy ideas after Democratic victories, the party will surely be punished by voters.

In a relatively short piece, Schoen used the word “consensus” seven times. As he sees it, the goal isn’t to pass specific policy goals; the goal is to get Democrats and Republicans to agree on specific policy goals. According to this line of thinking, what’s important isn’t the result, it’s the process. Americans don’t want results, they want some amorphous “bipartisanship,” even if they seem to support one party’s ideas by virtue of election victories.

Indeed, Schoen is unambiguous about this point: “The American people are actually seeking a middle route: consensus, conciliation and a results-oriented approach to governance.”

I suspect Obama, given what we know of his style and temperament, would make good-faith efforts to encourage Republicans to support his policy goals. But Schoen’s advice seems misguided — if Obama wins, he should scale back on the agenda voters asked him to implement? He should water down his agenda, whether it has the votes to pass or not? He should put “conciliation” at the top of his priority list?

And what, pray tell, does a Democratic majority do if/when Republicans decide they don’t like Democratic ideas, don’t care about popular mandates or polls, and won’t work with Dems on issues that matter? Do Democrats, at that point, simply stop governing, waiting for a mysterious “consensus” to emerge?

I don’t doubt that there’s ample data showing Americans approving of the idea of policy makers working together. With that in mind, Schoen believes Americans are “seeking a middle route.” Here’s an alternative read: Americans are seeking policies that work. The nation tried it the conservative Republican way for a while, and it led to disaster and failure. Now the electorate seems open to the idea of a different direction.

The goal, however, is not “conciliation,” it’s effective government. As Yglesias concluded, “What Democrats need to do if they want to prosper in 2010 and 2012 is deliver the goods. In other words, return the economy to prosperity, avoid terrible foreign affairs calamities, etc.”

Sounds like good advice to me.