12/03/2012 08:43 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2013

'Mandate' or Madness?

In the first press conference since his re-election, President Obama recently spoke of the political "mandate" he received at the polls. It was eerily reminiscent of a comment made by President George W. Bush three days after his re-election in 2004 wherein he used the same word to justify a renewed commitment to his controversial agenda.

Merriam Webster defines mandate as "an authoritative command." The word itself comes from the Latin root mandatum meaning "something commanded." Obama won re-election by a margin of 3.4 percent of the popular vote. George W. Bush won re-election by a margin of 2.4 percent of the popular vote. Both are more representative of a marginal victory from a deeply divided electorate than an "authoritative" command from a citizenry speaking with one voice.

The U.S. is approaching the well-documented "fiscal cliff." Few deadlines in history have been known so far in advance.

If we could design a fiscal fantasy, we all would like to pay fewer taxes and receive more benefits. We also intuitively understand those mathematics don't work. Nonetheless, politically we divide into two camps -- Republicans that would like to reduce or eliminate taxes and Democrats that would like to increase (or at least maintain) benefits -- even though we are unanimous in understanding that taken together this approach is unsustainable and guaranteed to lead us to fiscal ruin.

Any informed person understands we must both raise taxes and meaningfully reduce expenditures, including entitlements. It is the elephant in the room. If we continue to follow the cowardly, time-honored policies of the past we will face certain ruin.

Our government is a representative democracy wherein we empower elected officials to act in a manner serving the best interest of the country. Sometimes that requires politicians to save us from ourselves and make courageous decisions that abandon party ideology and are unpopular with their constituencies. Occasionally, the price they must pay, Republicans and Democrats alike, is losing their job in the next election.

If there is a mandate coming from the American voter it is decidedly not for the president (or Congress) to follow rigid party ideology. It is rather for the president and Congress to govern effectively through responsible compromise. If that question were put to the voter it would have won in a landslide, a true mandate of historic proportion.