AS BLUE TIDE washed over the electoral map last Tuesday night, it was hard not to believe that powerful forces were at work. Until Minnesota at last logged in for its favorite son Walter F. Mondale, the tiny District of Columbia was the only blemish on the Reagan carpet. In the television booths and living rooms, people talked of "landslides" and "mandates."
And with good cause, Reagan's 49-state sweep was as resounding as it was expected; the President garnered 59 percent of the popular vote, winning the support of men, of women, of young and old, and of the rich and not-quite-as-rich. Yet the winningest President in recent years was less politically helpful than some of his lower level friends might have hoped; Republicans were able to capture only 14 seats in Congress (not the 25-30 some GOP analysts had hoped for) and actually surrendered two seats in the Senate. The relatively frayed Reagan coattails do not diminish the President's own land-slide, but they do serve to put proper perspective on the nature of the 1984 "mandate;" Americans like Ronald Reagan, but they still have reservations about his party and his policies.
We hope that the President will bear this distinction in mind as he contemplates his second term agenda. Clearly a landslide victory is a sturdy political walking stick that can be called into service whenever the road gets rough in the next four years. Yet given the electorate's tepid reception of Reagan clones mouthing the President's line--Bay State businessman Rax Shamie comes quickly to mind--it would be dishonest to interpret the Reagan win as a green flag for the radical right.
It is clear that the Reagan mandate can be as flexible a tool as the President desires it tn be--one that can be used to defend more liberal policies from rightwingers as easily as to justify heightened conservatism. The election was, above all, a personal triumph for Reagan, and it could conceivably free him from the shibboleths of the New Right loonies hovering near the White House. Perhaps President will draw upon his margin of victory to pursue some limit in the size of the Pentagon buildup, in conjunction with continued domestic cuts and tax simplification. Even more hopefully, Reagan could use his victory margin as encouragement to move away from his hardline bargaining stance on arms control--in the interest of leaving office with some achievement in this area.
While we do not anticipate that Reagan will unveil a series of liberal reforms in his second term, we would welcome an interpretation of last week's mandate along these lines. If the President uses his strong victory to help forge pragmatic consensuses on major domestic and international issues rather than as an excuse to ignore the views of the minority who opposed him, he can prove wrong those critics who fear a second Reagan term will witness a feeding frenzy for the ideologues on the radical right. Such a response would represent true Presidential statesmanship.
At the same time, we hope the Democratic Party will also view the Reagan mandate for what it is rather than rush to embrace a more conservative agenda in a singleminded quest to regain the White House. American voters--even many of those who gave Reagan the thumbs up on Tuesday--still support Democratic stances on many of the issues of the day. As of now, there is no evidence that a Democratic lurch toward the right is necessary--let alone morally justifiable.