In 2004, George W. Bush won the US presidential election with 50.7 per cent percent of the popular vote compared to John Kerry's 48.3 per cent.
Tuesday's results -- still not competely tabulated -- had Barack Obama winning with 50.3 per cent to Mitt Romney's 48.1 per cent.
In other words, Obama's margin of victory in the popular vote is very close to that of Bush in 2004. (His electoral college margin is much greater, of course, but that's another matter.)
So why are commentators making such a fuss about Obama's supposed "narrow" victory?
Getting more than half the votes cast, with a margin of victory of well over 2.6 million votes, is not, after all, too shabby.
Playing with figures to diminish a victory built on young, women and non-white voters
Too often, U.S. political coverage likes to indulge in the sort of arcane statistical comparisons that make you think of baseball.
For instance, in the wake of Tuesday's election, reporters are going around saying that Obama is the first President, since Woodrow Wilson, to win re-election with a reduced margin of victory vis-à-vis his first victory.
Sounds sort of impressive -- until you look behind the statistic.
Wilson was re-elected in 1916. In the intervening period, four Presidents were actually defeated in their quests for a second term -- Hoover, Ford, Carter and Bush Sr.
Of the six who were re-elected, Roosevelt did indeed beat Alf Landon, in 1936, by more than the margin by which he thumped Hoover in 1932.
But FDR then went on to much narrower victories over Wendell Wilkie in 1940 and Thomas Dewey in 1944.
In 1956, Eisenhower increased his margin of victory over that of his first election, as did Nixon in 1972. But Nixon was subsequently forced to resign over the Watergate scandal.
Reagan and Clinton both saw healthy increases in their victory margins, though Clinton never achieved the 50 per cent of the popular vote that Obama won both times.
Bush Jr. did better in 2004 than in 2000, in the wake of 9/11. But, of course, in 2000, Bush famously lost the popular vote by over half a million. It would have been hard to do worse in 2004 without losing the election.
In other words, all these efforts to parse and pick at Obama's 2012 victory are just pointless statistical legerdemain.
Diminishing the victory and 'fiscal cliff' talks
Obama won well over the half the votes cast in Tuesday's election, and, yet, say a great many commentators, he somehow has only a limited mandate.
In 2011, Harper's Conservatives won less than 40 per cent of the popular vote in Canada, and that allows them to claim an unqualified victory.
Harper believes he has the power and mandate to ignore the Parliamentary Budget Officer, to disrespect the Chief Electoral Officer, to bundle scores of distinct pieces of legislation into single massive omnibus bills and to sign international treaties without consulting Parliament.
That's what a majority government, produced as much by the vagaries of the first-past-the-post electoral system as by a true expression of popular will, gives us.
In the United States, they have a different system from ours, of course.
There, the people elect the executive and the two houses of the legislature separately. And yesterday the people, in their supreme incoherence, decided to return a radical right majority to the House of Representatives just as they were re-electing Obama.
That means, starting today, the re-elected President will have to deal with Tea Party fanatics and their allies in order to avert what Americans call the fiscal cliff.
There is no real cliff, of course. It is an invented artifact of U.S. politics.
The United States government has no trouble borrowing to meet its current obligations. Its credit standing is perfectly fine, thank you very much, and Republican comparisons with Greece are beyond ridiculous.
But the United States has a weird piece of 1917 legislation called the debt ceiling. When borrowing requirements approach this artificially-created ceiling both Houses of Congress must vote to raise the statutory limit on borrowing. If they fail to do that, the U.S. government cannot issue new Treasury Bills.
A Tea Party House that pursues a fanatical agenda
Raising the debt ceiling has happened scores of times, mostly in a routine manner, without rancour or controversy.
Then the Tea Party gang came along in 2010.
They decided to politicize the process of raising the debt limit, and use it as an opportunity to aggressively push extreme notions such as a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget.
To get the ceiling raised, temporarily, last time, Obama and the Congress had to agree to a sort of mutual suicide pact, which mandated obligatory, sharp tax hikes and draconian spending cuts starting in January 2013, if the President and Congress could not reach a long term agreement on measures to raise the ceiling.
That's what they mean by the fiscal cliff.
The highly-respected Congressional Budget Office -- after which Canada's Parliamentary Budget Office is patterned -- says that if the United States does fall over that "cliff," fiscally, it will bring another deep recession.
That will have serious consequences for us all.
Obama is ready to see tax cuts that Bush Jr. implemented continue for the vast majority of Americans, but wants them to expire for high income people.
On the spending side, the President wants reasonable cuts that do not savage social programs (which Americans, oddly, call "entitlements"). And he insists on some cuts to military spending.
The Tea Partiers want none of that.
These dogmatic radicals are theologically opposed to any and all tax increases, full stop. Plus, for the most part, they will happily suspend their abhorrence of government when it comes to spending on guns, missiles and tanks.
So there is still an impasse, and it is not at all clear what impact, if any, Obama's victory will have on the Tea Party's willingness to see reason.
One suspects that the gibberish about the supposedly limited nature of the President's victory is designed, at least in part, to de-legitimize the democratically-expressed will of American voters -- especially young, poor and non-white voters -- and weaken Obama's hand in the imminent negotiations with Congress.
In Canada, we do not have debt ceiling legislation.
In fact, for better or worse, our majority government is able to blithely pass fiscal measures without even sharing all the necessary information with members of Parliament. Just ask Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
But while what is happening in Canada is an affront to parliamentary democracy, what the Tea Party majority in Congress has been doing in the United States is an affront to reason and common sense.
Thank you for reading this story…
More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.
rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.
So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.
And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.