Was close but the mandate was clear...


August 09, 1993|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

"THE MARGIN was close but the mandate was clear," President Clinton said after the House of Representatives passed his budget plan last Thursday.

I have always attributed that quote to Robert F. Kennedy. I thought he said it after John F. Kennedy's squeaker win over Richard Nixon in the 1960 presidential election. JFK defeated RN by only 0.17 percent in the popular vote count (and that gives him credit for some popular votes that went for electors who did not vote for him).

But I can't find that quote. I did find this in the book "Kennedy" that Theodore Sorenson later wrote about his boss:

"Every election has a winner and loser, he said in effect. The margin is narrow but the responsibility is clear. There may be difficulties with the Congress, but a margin of only one vote would still be a mandate."

Actually, it's not. I think the main reason Democrat Kennedy had so much trouble getting his programs through Congress a generation ago is the same one that's causing Bill Clinton's trouble today. No mandate. Very few Democratic members of the House in 1961 had received fewer votes in their districts than JFK received. No Democratic member of the House received fewer votes in his or her district than Bill Clinton received.

True, he ran in a three-man race, but even giving him half of Ross Perot's votes, he still ran behind most Democrats in their districts.

So how come the House passed his budget? It didn't. What it passed is no more Bill Clinton's original version than the Pentagon's new policy on gays in the military is Clinton's original version.

* * *

Speaking of borrowed quotes, I like what the representative with the longest name said after she voted for the budget. Noting that the vote, which she had vowed not to cast until a few minutes before she did, would be unpopular in her district, first term Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky of Pennsylvania said, "I wasn't sent here to be popular. I was sent here to lead." We'll see.

That recalls the famous quote of the famous 18th century British statesman Edmund Burke. Just after he was elected to Parliament in 1774, he told his constituents, "Your representative owes you . . . his judgment, and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion."

At the next election, he found he was so unpopular in his district that he chose not to run again.

* * *

Public opinion was about as closely split as the House vote at the moment of truth Thursday night. A CBS poll of people who had watched President Clinton's televised appeal for the plan last week favored its passage by 40-35 percent. That was a blip. They opposed it 44-39 before the speech. I think opinion will blip down (can that be good usage?) in the next year.

I think a lot of representatives who voted for the bill are going to be Burked next year.

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