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President Bush was elected in an exceedingly close election, and people said that the President does not have a mandate, that he won’t be able to govern. And I think what you’re seeing here in these 100 days, because of the manner in which the President has toned it down in Washington, because of the way he’s reaching out and working with others, . . . because of this new approach to governing, a tremendous amount of progress has been made. —White House Press Secretary Ari Fleisher, April 23, 2001 GEORGE W. BUSH’S “new approach to governing” in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election has indeed been unique in several important respects, but not in the sense implied by his former press secretary. Following the most controversial electoral outcome of the twentieth century, the Bush administration pursued major policy changes often at odds with the general preferences of the American public. Important policy shifts are often driven by a perceived electoral mandate, but none was apparent in the 2000 election. In that context, the Bush White House made aggressive use of an administrative strategy that permitted policy changes without necessarily securing public or legislative support. We should recognize that although the highly contested election result raised questions about George Bush’s legitimacy, this fact 171 EIGHT Who Needs a Mandate? The Election 2000 Hullabaloo and the Bush Administration’s Governing Agenda Brian J. Gerber and David B. Cohen did not prompt a reorientation of the Bush administration’s policy objectives. Instead, the effects of the election controversy have been most apparent in influencing the strategy and tactics employed in pursuit of those goals. This chapter considers the dynamics of the 2000 presidential election and their relationship to the Bush administration’s policy agenda after assuming office. We argue that the policy choices the Bush administration made reflected a White House that governed as if it enjoyed a clear mandate. Whatever the long-term constitutional implications or future electoral consequences , Bush v. Gore had little impact on policy goals. However, this does not imply that the election controversy and the means by which it was resolved were irrelevant to subsequent executive governance. Because of the nature of the 2000 election dispute, the Bush White House was forced to alter the strategies and tactics a president typically uses to achieve programmatic goals. In its first year, the Bush administration relied heavily on an administrative strategy eschewing the typical routes of achieving goals by persuading Congress or by going public in favor of much less visible tactics such as issuing executive orders, adjusting agency rulemaking, and making ideologically based subcabinet appointments.1 This use of an administrative governing strategy is reminiscent of the Nixon and Reagan years. But the inability to credibly proclaim, even rhetorically, an electoral mandate made this governing option much more salient and useful to the Bush administration. More important, the Bush administration has moved beyond previous utilizations of such a policymaking strategy by placing a greater emphasis on pursuing policy goals through exceptionally low visibility avenues such as lawsuit settlements on terms favorable to preferred interests and issuance of internal agency directives. Neither of these tactics is entirely new per se, but they took on a critical role in the early Bush presidency and afforded policy changes without evoking public scrutiny—a sort of under the radar governing strategy. This approach to governing—a heavy reliance on executive-based policy change that minimizes public scrutiny—is novel in presidential politics. This chapter first places the election 2000 result in context with a general introduction to the idea of presidential mandates. We then provide an overview of how the Bush policy agenda has been pursued through administrative tactics as a means of resolving the conflict between policy goals and a lack of political support for many preferred issues. We illustrate this tension by paying particular attention to regulatory policies. Finally, we offer comments on policy change through such techniques and its implications for democratic accountability. PRESIDENTIAL MANDATES (OR LACK THEREOF) With respect to modern U.S. presidential elections, the concept of a mandate is used to describe an election where voters positively affirm the proposed BRIAN J. GERBER AND DAVID B. COHEN 172 policy agenda of the winning candidate by clearly favoring one candidate over the other. A mandate is important because it bestows legitimacy on the president and his policy agenda, as well as pressures Congress to acquiesce to the concomitant legislative program (for example, Conley 2001...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780791482841
Print ISBN
9780791465356
MARC Record
OCLC
63166044
Pages
296
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
N
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