January 22, 2008

Eyes on the Primaries: Senator Barack Obama

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This is the first in a series of articles examining the positions of front-running presidential primary candidates.
With Super Tuesday right around the corner, the New York State primaries could prove to be an uphill battle for presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). On Feb. 5 he goes up against Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) who is currently leading in California, New Jersey and Florida for the Democratic Presidential Nomination, according to the latest Rasmussen report released yesterday.
Coming off the heels of a win in the Iowa caucus, Obama projects himself as a candidate for change, a buzzword that has become talk show fodder from both sides of the political spectrum.
Claiming that he can reach out to both republicans and democrats, some feel that Obama will have more success in the White House because he is a less polarizing force than his opponent Sen. Clinton. His official campaign website touts him as “a change we can believe in.”
“He is willing to compromise as long as he doesn’t compromise with principles. It is impossible to achieve anything with a 51 percent majority — he’s the best person to get things to done by working in a bipartisan fashion,” said Eronmonsele Elens-Eigbokhan ’09, director of Cornell Students for Barack Obama, in a past interview.
The crux of many Democratic presidential candidates’ platforms, including those of Obama, Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), lies in the restoration of the middle class. However, most candidates have offered vague definitions of what exactly the definition of “middle-class” is, with some sources claiming it encompasses incomes as low as $50,000 to those as high as $200,000. Recently, Obama proposed that individuals earning over $200,000 would have to pay more in Social Security taxes. But Clinton has criticized Obama, asserting that such a plan would actually hurt families who live in high-cost areas and cause even more undue hardship.
Among his other economic reforms, Obama also seeks to redress the mortgage crisis by creating a universal mortgage credit that would benefit families earning less than $50,000. The aim of this credit is to “help homeowners deal with the uncertain state of the housing market today,” according to his official campaign website.
Voter turnout for this election among the youth crowd is expected to reach a new record as college students claim to see error in both the Clinton and the Bush years.
In trying to explain Obama’s appeal to college students, Fil Eden ’10 said, “Clinton seems to represent the traditional establishment and our generation has seen the unsustainable practices that both the Bush and Clinton administration have developed.” [img_assist|nid=26733|title=Mad about Obama|desc=Eronmonsele Elens-Eigbokhan ’09, director of Cornell Students for Obama, rallies last semester for the presidential hopeful on Ho Plaza.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Julieclaire Shepphard ’10 said, “I view him as someone who can heal international relations coming from his background. He represents a change in our standing with the international community. We know Clinton has been around the block and we don’t want to be saddled by the debt of our parents.”
Some of Obama’s foreign policy initiatives include more aggressively urging Iraqi leaders to take control of their country. His website claims that Obama warned that going into Iraq would result in “an occupation of undetermined length, with undetermined costs and undetermined consequences.”
Obama believes Iraqi leaders will be more likely to heed his advice if they see that the U.S. is slowly beginning to remove troops from their country. He plans to accomplish this by immediately removing one to two combat brigades a month from Iraq. His site also states that unless al-Qaeda builds a base in Iraq, Obama would not establish any permanent bases in the country.
Another issue that is especially important to college students is how candidates will handle the rising cost of college tuition and interest rates of loan repayments. Obama plans to create a tax credit called the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which would stipulate that the first $4,000 of a college education is free and refundable. His site asserts that the credit would cover “two-thirds the cost of tuition at the average public college or university and make community college tuition completely free for most students.” Additionally, Obama would also increase Pell Grants to $5,400 dollars by limiting the amount of subsidies given to banks and lenders.
The price of a Cornell education easily tops $34,000 according to figures listed on Collegeboard.com.
However, Jake Welch ’10 believes Obama has an ability to inspire people in a way that former President John F. Kennedy Jr. did, despite his policy mistakes.
“[Obama] really represents a lot of things we see in ourselves. He contradicts people that say you can’t do it this way … ‘Your policies are immature; you’re not thinking correctly.’ But he makes decisions from a certain ethical standpoint whereas other candidates do it from the view ‘we need to win’. When I think of Hillary Clinton, I don’t feel inspired,” he said.
However, some are critical of Obama’s policies due to his brief tenure in Washington. Many feel he lacks the experience to lead the country.
“Inspiration matters and it’s unfortunate that Hillary isn’t as inspiring as Barack, but what we need most today is a person who can skillfully maneuver the political system and fix the many problems our country is facing. I think that given her extensive policy experience, Hillary is the best equipped to successfully achieve her proposed goals when something goes wrong in the policy process,” said John-David Brown ’09, a leader of Cornell for Hillary.
Invoking Martin Luther King Jr. at a rally Sunday in honor of the holiday, Obama sought to appeal black voters in South Carolina by positioning himself as a person who could connect the racial and political divides that threaten the civil right’s activist dream of economic and racial equality.
The South Carolina Democratic primary election will be held this Saturday, where over half of registered voters are black.
Want to read about the Republican candidates? Click on the candidates name: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), former Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Gov. Mitt Romney. For the Democratic candidates, click on their names above.