This just in: When George W. Bush beat John Kerry in November by less than three percentage points, it might have been something less than a sweeping endorsement of the political agenda advanced by the president and his allies on the religious right.
In a front-page analysis piece today, the Washington Post's John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei tut-tut "campaign strategists and academics" who once engaged in "ample speculation that Bush's victory, combined with incremental gains in the Republican congressional majority, signaled something fundamental: a partisan and ideological 'realignment' that would reshape politics over the long haul."
Now, say Harris and VandeHei, some political analysts believe it's "just as likely that Washington is witnessing a happens-all-the-time phenomenon -- the mistaken assumption by politicians that an election won on narrow grounds is a mandate for something broad."
Who would make such a "mistaken assumption" about a Republican mandate? Well, one might start with the Washington Post. Before all the votes were even counted on the night of the election, Harris wrote an analysis piece for the Post headlined, "For Bush and GOP, a Validation." In it, he said that "voters in an age of terrorism seemed to let go of their 1990s preference for divided government and gave a narrow but unmistakable mandate for the GOP." VandeHei was only a little more cautious. In an analysis published two days after the election, VandeHei and the Post's Dana Milbank wrote that Bush "heads into a second term with a clearer mandate and greater power than he did in 2000 to put a conservative, free-market stamp on U.S. domestic and foreign policy."
As Harris and VandeHei write today's Post, "If Bush has misjudged the public appetite for an ambitious conservative agenda, he is not the only one."