AS A GRATEFUL nation prepares to stop reading about its recent and, it sometimes seemed, eternal 1984 election, we think there are a few political odds and ends to be cleaned up. We are thinking of the post-election commentary, which is coming to sound, if anything (and if possible), even more daffy than what preceded it. Three items come to mind.
First there is the commonplace about how the voters in their skeptical wisdom -- independent and leery to the end -- decided to reelect Ronald Reagan by a huge margin, but at the same time to deny him a comparable sweep in the Senate and the House. The majority did this, it is asserted, because it believes that an opposition-minded legislature will act as a useful check on the president. We don't know how many times over the years in general and over the past few days in particular we have heard this analysis made of a split result. We do know exactly how many times in our life we have heard a voter -- any voter -- express the sentiment or even hint that he or she was splitting a ticket on this premise: none. People vote for senators and representatives for a vast array of reasons that are peculiar to their states and districts and to the politics of that particular election. They vote for a senator or representative, not for a Senate or House. The old clich,e that has it otherwise should be retired.
Second, you will notice that we referred above to the "voters' and the "majority." Notice anything missing? Something was: that all-time favorite and monumentally imprecise phrase, "the American people." In the best of times, this is one you have to look out for. Politicians (and editorialists) invoking it are usually up to something dubious. But the post-election use this year has taken the cake. Those benighted souls who did not vote for Ronald Reagan are, we are soberly told, "out of touch with the American people." The "American people" have told dear old Walter Mondale what they think of him. The "American people" have said in no uncertain terms that they have had it up to here with Democratic liberalism.
Well, there is some truth in this: approximately 53 million American people said as much at the polls. They were and are a winning majority -- a big and clear one. But they do not, if you'll forgive our saying so, constitute "the American people." Some 36 million other souls cast their votes for Mr. Mondale, and if they are not also "American people," you've got a pretty sensational case of voter fraud on your hands. Let's stop talking about this election result as if the winners were American nationals and losers were Something Else.
Finally, there is the vexed, not to say tedious, question of the mandate. Did the vast majority that elected him give Ronald Reagan a mandate? Of course they did. We hardly see how there can be any argument about that. Huge numbers indicated their preference for the president, and they knew what he was running on and for. They said yes to Ronald Reagan and no to Walter Mondale. They gave the president a mandate and it is very simple. It is a mandate not to raise taxes.
The stories you are reading in the paper now describe the early stirrings among those trying to figure out how on earth Mr. Reagan is going to fulfill this mandate or whether he even can. It could be an infinitely more interesting and suspenseful story than the election that preceded it.