November 6, 2008

Profs Guess What Obama Will Do As President

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Mere hours after Barack Obama’s victory, Cornell professors analyzed the policies and plans of the president-elect, converging in yesterday’s conference “Now that they’ve won, what will they do?” in Goldwin Smith.
Sponsored by the Cornell in Washington program and moderated by Cornell in Washington director Prof. Robert Hutchens, industrial and labor relations, the conference was the brainchild of Prof. Theodore Lowi, the John L. Senior Professor of American Institutions and a longtime collaborator of the Cornell in Washington program. [img_assist|nid=33344|title=Forward thinking|desc=Prof. Richard Booth, city and regional planning, and Prof. Theodore Lowi, government, speak about Obama’s presidency yesterday in Goldwin Smith.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“This started with a conversation with Ted Lowi,” said Hutchens. “It helps raise the level of intellectual discourse on campus.”
After their introduction by Hutchens, Prof. Joel Silbey, the President White Professor of History Emeritus, kicked off the discussion. Silbey acknowledged that the Obama-coined “long road to change” is accurate, citing partisan bickering and the slow movement of legislation through Congress as obstacles to substantial reform.
“If you’re a Democrat, all I can say is be patient. If you’re Republican, all I can say is there’s always 2020,” said Silbey.
Prof. M. Elizabeth Sanders, government, explained that there is a good chance that Obama will be a “realigning president,” using bipartisanship to keep the country in the center of the political ideology spectrum. Sanders also emphasized that, like Roosevelt and Lincoln, both of whom Obama has drawn comparisons to, the president-elect may not know exactly what his message of change will bring until he’s in office.
“I’m really watching the economic appointments,” Sanders said after the meeting. “If he’s really a realigning president, he really needs some new ideas. I’m just a little worried about the old bulls mentioned in the press that he may bring in.”
Panelists drew several parallels to former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his revolutionary New Deal program.
“I’m struck that this panel has turned into a discussion of Franklin Roosevelt,” said Silbey.
Prof. Richard Booth, city and regional planning, also believed that Obama would not lean too strongly towards the left or right, despite some pointed fingers of socialism.
“My best guess … is that President Obama will try to govern more from the center,” Booth said. “I say that because the country is deeply divided.”
Booth also noted that he expects Obama to “at least be partially bi-partisan” in his cabinet picks. Booth listed issues that he believes Obama will not address in his presidency, though he may have emphasized them in his campaign, including campaign finance reform and congressional redistricting reform.
While applauding Obama’s charisma, Lowi noted that Obama would have to bring immediate plans for reform to the office.
“If he is to succeed, he needs to hit hard at home,” said Lowi. “I’m optimistic because he has another virtue — patience.”
Following the completion of the talk, the floor was opened to questions from the audience.
In response to a question about the exact policy package Obama brings to the White House, the professors emphasized that his perceived lack of concrete plans is not a drawback.
“No one could’ve predicted the New Deal based on Roosevelt’s previous campaign stance and policies,” said Lowi.
Booth reiterated Lowi’s point, explaining that many presidents’ legacies are based on plans of action they did not talk about in campaigns.
The discussion drew a large crowd, including undergraduates and a few Ithaca policy wonks.
“I think they really did a great job of assembling professors from all over the University,” said Patricia Moscoso ’11. “Like so many at Cornell, I was thrilled last night. But you can’t get caught up in the excitement, there’s still a country to run. The conference is a huge part of Cornell: staying relevant to what’s going on in the news and being really committed to making us good citizens.”