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Professors say Obama must overcome divisions within government

Emily Schrank | Thursday, January 27, 2011

After President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, Notre Dame professors said the President now faces the challenge of pushing his proposed agenda through a divided Congress.

“Democrats and Republicans differ on the basic philosophical question of what government should be doing,” said David Campbell, associate professor of Political Science and director of Notre Dame’s Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy. “The President’s challenge is to somehow try to find areas of common ground.”

Campbell said disagreements on the government’s spending priorities will cause the biggest clash between House Republicans and Democrats.

“Both agree that the domestic economy is the No. 1 issue,” he said. “They agree on the ends they are trying to achieve, but will disagree on the means. They’re going to differ on where cuts should occur and what the extent of those cuts should be.”

Obama, who focused on the domestic economy throughout the majority of the speech, was very optimistic about America’s future, Campbell said.

“He was trying to strike a Reaganesque tone with the language that he used,” Campbell said. “This speech, coupled with the address he gave at the memorial in Tucson a few weeks ago, marks the beginning of a new period for the President.”

Based on the optimistic tone Obama struck, Campbell said, the speech was a “political win” for Obama.

“When you have Republicans painting a dark picture and talking about how bad things are, optimism is going to beat the pessimism every time,” he said.

Darren Davis, professor of political science, said Obama appeared willing to cooperate with Republicans, particularly in moving forward with the health care issue.

“He seemed agreeable, but again this is the State of the Union, which is a very political speech to begin with,” Davis said. “The reality is that many things will break down in the end.”

Davis said it will also be difficult for Obama to find a balance between cutting spending and creating the new domestic programs that he proposed in education, science and technology.

“It’s not exactly clear that all of those things can be done simultaneously,” he said. “The question now becomes how much of what the President proposed can actually happen.”