The role of the United States President, especially that of President Barack Obama, along with discussion of the scope of government, remained a heated topic of discussion amongst University political scientists Tuesday afternoon.
Notre Dame’s Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy continued this discussion yesterday in a lecture “Congress and the Presidency” as a part of its conference titled “The Change Election? The 2008 Presidential Election and the Future of American Politics.”
In the first part of the lecture, Notre Dame associate professor of political science John Griffin addressed the relevance of a famous presidential quote to modern American politics, and consequently, its impact of the 2008 presidential election.
“Government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem,” Griffin quoted former president Ronald Reagan as saying in 1981.
Griffin presented a graph depicting popular opinion about the scope of government. The graph portrayed the upward jump in the popularity of big government in America from 1984 to 2008.
He said the change is a result of three principle factors, including “changing composition with the growth of the Democratic party, changing effect with the new enthusiasm of big government and a shift in party identities.”
Griffin quoted Michael Barone, senior writer for U.S. News & World Report and principal coauthor of The Almanac of American Politics, noting that Americans may still not be ready for a shift to big government.
“Americans seem to be recalling against big government when it threatens to become a reality rather than a campaign promise,” he said.
The next speaker at the lecture, Professor William Howell, the Sydney Stein Professor of American Politics in the Harris School of the University of Chicago, addressed presidential wartime power.
“War is a fetus of monarchy,” Howell said, citing the opinions of the founding fathers.
Howell said, however, war has often not been kind to presidents.
“Post-World War II experiences have been devastating for presidents: Truman and Korea, Johnson and Vietnam, Bush and Iraq,” he said.
Despite this trend, however, war can be beneficial for a president, Howell said.
Using several graphs, Howell demonstrated the conservative shift of Congress in the days following September 11, 2001.
Howell shifted his dialogue to address modern politics, focusing on President Obama.
“At one level the results suggest Obama is inheriting a compliant Congress than he otherwise would, in the absence of war,” he said.
Rogers Smith, Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania, delivered the final part of the lecture.
Smith addressed two key points concerning the historical perspective of Obama’s presidency — the change of partisanship that came with the end of the “Reagan Revolution” and the election of the first African-American.
Smith explained how Obama was able to overcome the racial divide in the United States.
Rather than uniting with what he referred to as the Modern Race Conscious Alliance, which includes, “most Democratic party office holders and members,” Smith said Obama adopted the theme, “E Pluribus Unum.”
Quoting the President, “This nation is more than the sum of its parts. Out of many, we are truly one,” Smith said.