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Panel: Obama faces many challenges

Robert Singer | Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Exactly one week after President Barack Obama’s inauguration, a roundtable of political science professors met for a panel discussion, talking about Obama’s challenges as he begins to tackle economic and military crises against a backdrop of high expectations.

The discussion was titled “Challenges and Opportunities Facing the Obama Administration” and held in the Coleman-Morse lounge Tuesday evening.

Professor Dan Lindley spoke of an overlooked dimension of dealing with high expectations.

“The power he gets from his popularity is intangible, but nonetheless real,” Lindley said.

Since the public expects Obama to bring about so much positive change, they will be more willing to back his proposals, he said.

“High expectations are a form of power,” Lindley said.

These expectations will apply to many different crises as the United States confronts challenges in a variety of arenas, according to the professors at the roundtable.

Lindley spoke of the need to build strong alliances by focusing on mutual interests to meet the security threats of the 21st century.

“He talks a lot about common security,” he said. “The key to common security is common threat perception. How can Obama engineer a sense of common sense perception among different nations?”

If Professor Tony Messina’s account of transatlantic relations is any indication, diplomacy with European nations could prove difficult.

“In the past Europeans made a very clear distinction of a president they didn’t like and the United States,” Messina said. “That boundary now is getting blurred. The Europeans are moving toward a worldview that excludes the United States from their thinking, as far as international leadership.”

Messina said U.S. policies have caused Europe’s unfavorable views. American policy in the Middle East, U.S. action on climate change, the hard stance the Bush administration took against Russia and the economic competition between the U.S. and the European Union are some of the reasons for the tension, according to Messina.

Professor Dianne Pinderhughes expressed concern that the economic crisis is affecting African-Americans disproportionately, noting that blacks’ incomes­­­­ are on average two thirds of whites’, while also raising worries about the enforcement of voting rights laws.

According to Pinderhughes, during the Bush administration, the Department of Justice hired numerous people to fill non-political positions on the basis of whether they were conservative, Republican and “right thinking.”

“My argument is that some of those individuals who were hired might still be in the department and might affect the way voting rights are administered,” she said.

The Obama presidency has a chance to set aside an incremental approach and transform the government’s role in economic and other domestic policy, according to Professor Peri Arnold.

“We are in a moment of tectonic shift in American politics which makes for a different kind of president,” he said.

Arnold remarked on what he viewed as a decline in government competence over the last 30 years, arguing that Obama has the opportunity to reverse this trend.

“There was once a time when young people like you thought about working for the federal government,” he said.

“I think we are in a time of change,”?he said.

He added: “Barack Obama’s conception of government is one that will inspire us.”

Arnold said that in times of crisis, past presidents like Franklin Roosevelt have gambled with history by proposing bold agendas.

“It’s very risky, but it’s exactly these kinds of presidencies that have made the assumption that there is an opportunity for great change,” he said. “It’s like walking out on a high wire without a safety net.”

Professor John Roos argued that as Obama takes steps forward, he must make an effort to cooperate with Republicans or risk upsetting the nation’s ideological divide and losing his high level of initial support.

“The first big test is going to come in the next two weeks,” he said. “I think he’s going to get what he wants, but the question is whether he is going to get enough Republican votes to appear bipartisan.”