It will, and should, be argued that the election was a mandate for moderation. The last month of Mitt Romney‘s campaign, when he rushed to the center and suddenly made it a race, ratified the real will of the people: a sensible centrism that runs deeper than the over-caffeinated bluster that seems to dominate the media. The election hinted that the third rail of American politics–the certain death that comes to those who question entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare–is beginning to lose its juice.
So the result of the election “hints” at a moderate plan to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits? It’s hard to find that outcome in the results; the public has never supported the idea of cutting such “entitlements,” and there’s no reason to think the electorate shifted much. Two exit polls show that 2012 voters are not interested in a “bargain” that would cut benefits in either case. This shouldn’t be confused with the prospect that Obama might pursue a “grand bargain” that cuts benefits. That’s certainly possible–but it’s hard to see how that is what the public wants.
There’s a convention in the corporate media to advocate for “moderation” and “centrism”–Tom Friedman might be the master of this particular genre of punditry. Usually their idea of the “center” isn’t about what the public wants, though; it’s usually a set of policies well to the right of popular opinion. That could make it awkward for them to keep saying that Democrats need to be more like Republicans–which is why appeals to “centrism” are so handy.