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Claim The Mandate

Here are two predictions:

On Tuesday night Barack Obama will be elected President, and on Wednesday, if not before, Republicans will argue that his victory didn't mean anything -- that America remains a center-right nation and that Senator Obama's victory was not a referendum on conservative principles.

How Democrats respond to this spin will be critical in shaping Barack Obama's first two years in office.  Much of his agenda will hang in the balance.  Democrats must claim the mandate that the public is about to bestow on our party in order to bring about the real change that Senator Obama ran on.

The policy changes that Senator Obama has promised have been put before the public in real detail -- energy independence, health care reform, and economic stimulus have been part of the public debate between the two campaigns for months.  The public knows what it is buying -- and it is buying progressive change.

Republicans will argue that the election results were merely a referendum on John McCain's campaign or on George Bush.  Nonsense.  If this election was merely a referendum on John McCain or George Bush, or even just on Barack Obama, we would not see the gains that Democrats are about to make in Congress.

Democrats should reject this argument --  success in this election, coupled with Democratic victories in 2006, signal that the public has rejected the tenets of modern conservatism -- pre-emptive war, deregulation, trickle-down economics, and cultural division in favor of core Democratic principles -- engagement with our allies abroad, broadly shared prosperity at home, and health care for all.  

But in order to deliver Democrats will have to seize the moment -- and that begins with the battle to define what Tuesday's outcome means.

Howard Wolfson also blogs at Gotham Acme