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November 5, 2004



PAUL GIGOT: Welcome to The Journal Editorial Report. It came down to this. President Bush mobilized his conservative base to win a convincing victory by more than three million votes. He helped Republicans gain seats in both houses of Congress. Now the President and his aides are making plans for a second term with a more ambitious agenda. With me to discuss all this are Dan Henninger, Deputy Editor of The Wall Street Journal Editorial Page, Susan Lee, also of the Editorial Page, and columnist Dorothy Rabinowitz.

Dan, the word of the week is "mandate." The Vice President mentioned it explicitly on Wednesday. Does the President have one now? And to do what?

DAN HENNINGER: I think he has a mandate. I don't think a mandate is what a thousand pundits think it is. It's what the practical politicians make of it.

In 1992 Bill Clinton won the presidency with 43 percent of the vote. Came into the presidency in 1993 with a solid congressional majority, proceeded to pass his economic plan, NAFTA, Americorps, health and medical leave. George Bush comes into the presidency, having gained seats in both houses. He's up to 55 seats in the Senate, they came from red states, it's ideological support, he never hid his agenda, he made very explicit what he was running on in that election. I think that adds up to a mandate.

PAUL GIGOT: Susan. Coat tails. Big, big issue he got. Gained seats in both houses. Nixon and Reagan had lonely victories even though they were bigger victories.

SUSAN LEE:  This is all true. But I just want to say for the economic portion of it, which is what I have been covering, the mandate is not for Bush. The mandate very clearly went for Kerry's program. Twenty percent of the voters said that the economic issue was the most important. Of those, 80 percent voted for Kerry. Now that means that this huge chunk of people are voting for better income redistribution and for the government to create jobs. They are not voting for privatizing Social Security.

PAUL GIGOT: That's 20 percent of the voters, though. The other voters, who did vote for Bush, said that other issues were most important in this campaign, national security and the culture. And on national security, Dorothy --

DOROTHY RABINOWITZ: Well why are you trying to be reasonable about this? The electorate has spoken and in a significant majority. But it does not surprise me that we're hearing that Bush has no mandate from the forces that have been supporting John Kerry and then denouncing. We are now hearing about this divided nation, and therefore he cannot have no mandate. And what is this divided nation all about? I hear about the wailing people, despairing in the streets that they live in an alien society now. This is not respectable political opinion that now has to be cosseted.

PAUL GIGOT: There's no question we have this big debate with an engaged electorate. I mean, we had the largest turnout, looks like, since 1968, maybe as many as 120 million voters will have voted. You can't say that this election caught people by surprise, or was hijacked by some voting block or another. So when you have that many voters engaged, even if it's a narrow victory in the sense of the electoral college, isn't it a big mandate in the sense of a profound judgment by the electorate about which way they want to go?

DAN HENNINGER: I think so. Let's talk a little bit about national security, terror, and Iraq. We can break that down, I think. I believe the President did get a mandate to pursue the war on terror. Did he get a mandate to pursue his strategy in Iraq? Not so clear to me. I think there was a lot of discomfort out there in the country about the way Iraq was prosecuted. And I think that this president is going to have to go in front of the people and explain in much greater detail than he did what he plans to do in Iraq.

PAUL GIGOT: It was almost a probationary kind of judgment by voters, a second chance, really. Susan, let's go to the culture.

SUSAN LEE:  Yeah, I think you're all avoiding where the real mandate of this election was, and that was on social values. The largest chunk of voters voted for Bush because of this values issue. And to me, that's a mandate that says no abortion, no stem cell research, and no gay marriage. I mean, that's where the mandate is.

PAUL GIGOT: Not no stem cell research. No publically-funded stem cell research. There's a lot of stem cell research going on. Dorothy, I think you disagree with Susan on cultural matters.

DOROTHY RABINOWITZ: Well, I do, because it has become a caricature of the red states, as though here are these ill-informed religious zealots. And I'd like you to remember that the closest part of my family lives in Columbus, Ohio, and as you can tell from my name, they are not Evangelical Christians, they are not Orthodox zealots, they are Americans like their neighbors, and they could not wait to vote for George W. Bush. He represented positions they understood, they could support. Tell me what Kerry could have spoken? I asked, what did Kerry give you? Bush is the spawn of Satan.

PAUL GIGOT: Well, I disagree with you on John Kerry, because I actually think Kerry --


PAUL GIGOT: No, I think you're right about his retinue. A lot of the aides de camp and the Michael Moores and all of that. But John Kerry, I want to defend him. Because right now there's a lot of Democrats out there who are saying, it's the candidate's fault. This happens every time there's a defeat. Blame the candidate. Republicans blamed Bob Dole. Now it's John Kerry's fault.

John Kerry ran a very respectable race, at least after the summer when he got past the convention. I thought he really represented his party very well. He just couldn't get over his Senate record. And some of these values judgments, which he didn't have a lot of leeway on because his party insisted that he take those positions. Susan, what do the Democrats have to do to kind of emerge and resonate better on the culture with the broad American middle?

SUSAN LEE:  Okay, this is simple. And Kerry could have done it. There are -- if you look at the Bible, there are two sets of kinds of values. There are social values, and there are personal values. And usually, Democrats are associated with social values and Republicans are associated with personal values. There will come along a candidate who embodies both social and personal, and that person, according to Rick Warren, who is a very important Evangelical leader -- that person will get 80 or 90 percent of the vote. And it could be a Democrat or a Republican.

PAUL GIGOT: Eighty or 90 percent of the vote? Now that is a landslide. Susan, thank you. Last word. Next subject.