November 7, 2012

After Obama’s Victory, Profs Debate Future of America

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Correction appended

After years of speculation over the next president came to a sudden conclusion Tuesday night, four professors met Wednesday to contemplate the implications of President Barack Obama’s reelection and how it might affect America in the years to come.

In a panel discussion Wednesday afternoon titled “Now That They’ve Won, What Will They Do?”, a crowd of about 40 students gathered in an Ives Hall auditorium to listen to input from Prof. Glenn Altschuler, American studies, Prof. Fredrik Logevall, history, Prof. Elizabeth Sanders, government, and Prof. Richard Booth, city and regional planning.

The professors discussed a range of issues, but seemed to zero in on a few: whether Obama could enact successful policy in his second term; the role of demographic changes in party politics; and structural aspects of the U.S. political system, such as term limits.

“The history of presidents in the second term has not been a hopeful one. It’s not an easy road,” Booth said.

Sanders, on the other hand, predicted that Obama’s success for the duration of his presidency would depend in large part on the intensity of grassroots political movements on the left.

Altschuler took a more optimistic stance, saying that while “most professors see their role as leaving their students as depressed as they are,” he believes a steadily improving economy might lead to better prospects. The elimination of re-election pressure might also encourage the president to take more risks, he added.

Similarly, Logevall, who focused mainly on foreign policy throughout the discussion, said he imagined a second-term Obama will be free to make bolder decisions on key foreign policy issues without the threat of reelection. He predicted that the U.S. would soon reach a diplomatic deal with Iran.

Sanders echoed Logevall’s sentiments, saying that another war — “probably Iran” — would have been more likely under a Romney presidency. She said that second-term presidents have far less frequently instigated wars abroad.

The four panelists also spoke about some of the recent demographic changes to the American voting population that affected the outcome of Tuesday night’s election.

“Forty-five percent of people who voted for Obama were not white. All of these changes are benefiting the Demo­cratic party,” Altschuler said. He said comprehensive immigration reform will likely be the next step toward garnering the votes of minorities.

All four professors embraced the idea of lengthening the terms of elected officials in the U.S. Booth suggested four-year Congressional terms, while Sanders, Logevall and Altschuler all said a single, six-year term for the presidency could help improve the policymaking.

The panel, which was sponsored by the Cornell in Washington program, drew students from a range of political backgrounds, but all seemed to be driven by a general interest in politics.

“It is really important to engage with what is happening. It sometimes seems like we’re in a bit of a bubble,” Arielle Koppell ’15 said.

Several students in the audience said after the debate that they found the professors’ discussion of foreign policy issues particularly interesting.

“I hadn’t thought about foreign policy much,” Lewis said. “[The panelists] seemed to think we dodged a bullet with Iran.”

Jake Atkins ’15 added that it was interesting to hear the professors talk about the possibility of significant changes to foreign policy over the next four years.

Others were more interested in hearing predictions about the economy.

“[I] really just came to see what path the president would take us on fiscal issues, such as the deficit and the fiscal cliff,” said Zack Kuff ’14, a tepid supporter of former Gov. Mitt Romney who said he had been unimpressed with both candidates in the election.

Daniel Lewis ’15, who voted for Obama, said he probably would have been even more likely to attend the event if Romney had been elected, to see what the panelists would have predicted.

The panelists themselves seemed to be engaged in the debate, having just spent the previous night closely following coverage of the election. After all, Sanders said, “we are all election junkies.”

“Obama’s speech finished at 2 a.m.,” Logevall said. “I was so wired from the whole evening that I couldn’t go to sleep.”

Original Author: Erica Augenstein