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The Scarlet & Black

Hoping there is still some change to spare: faculty perspectives

Anticipation for change ran high on November 4th, 2008, when Obama was elected president, eliciting personal reactions that eclipsed those of any other recent election. “A great deal of America was extremely ebullient about Obama—intoxicated. People were crying the streets. [It was] well beyond what you normally see,” said David Western, Political Science and Peace Studies. “America was intoxicated with this regeneration of itself…now we could actually become the ideal of America.”

Bringing about the ideal of America is a tall order. From the beginning of Obama’s presidency in January, Americans had to descend from the euphoria of his election to the reality of politics. The past year has caused many to question his ability to follow through on the promises he made.

“There are expectations on Barack Obama as a president that would be difficult for any president coming after the Bush years,” Katya Gibel Mevorach, Anthropology, said.

Despite the Democratic majority in Congress, he hasn’t seen the support he needs for his more radical plans. “I’m more disappointed with the Democratic Congress, that they have not shown more backbone in supporting some of those policies,” Craig Upright, Sociology, said.

Ellen Mease, Theater, pointed out that the economy specifically will not be cured as easily as electing a new president. “The economic downturn was a long time in the making under Bush and it will take a long time to come out,” she said.

Gibel Mevorach recalled the excessive liberties taken by the previous administration, pointing out that presidents are not actually dictators, and even if Obama had full congressional support, the office of the presidency itself is not strong enough to change an entire country in less than a year.

Western agreed that it will take more than one man, to make progress. “There are much, much deeper changes that are required in this country that need to be spurred on by a much wider democratic movement if people want to see the changes that they were hoping for,” he said.

Western cited the interdependence of American industry and the military as something that cannot be changed by the turnover of one administration. “A great deal of military policy, what Obama can and can’t do, is guided by that [militarily industrial] structure,” Western said.

He described the collusion between the Pentagon and private contractors as created and crafted over decades. It is directly related to the war in Iraq—a war that Obama has promised to end. Yet it is impossible to deconstruct it in the space of 10 months and without a nation-wide call for action.

The same is true for other possible policy changes. “Obama may have a choice between doing some radical things and being a one-term president…or not doing enough radical things and not living up to his promises of changing America, and maybe getting a second term,” Western said.

Whether he pursues radical policies or not, the professors questioned seemed to agree that Obama has still been successful in bringing America forward from the country of his predecessor. “I think that he’s made tremendous progress in rolling back some of the worst excesses of the Bush administration,” Upright said.

Obama has started to go beyond simply rectifying the mistakes of Bush and Cheney, specifically when it comes to his health care bill which is more extensive than any other president has attempted before. “That he’s managed to push in a public option—that’s something that’s never been done,” Western said.

Still, the health care program has yet to be passed, education has yet to be reformed and soldiers remain in Iraq. “Obviously he has a lot of goals that have not been achieved. I am still hopeful that he’s laying the groundwork for doing that in the future,” said Upright.

Upright noted that one of the ways Obama has been preparing the country for his policies is in changing the way that the executive branch operates. “He has established a protocol that…allows Congress to craft legislation with his support and encouragement. He has demonstrated that he is willing to treat Congress as an equal branch of government,” said Upright.

Gibel Mevorach pointed to the specific promises Obama made during his campaign, and added to them. “I hope that there will be movement on everything related to immigration—I hope that there will be improvement on the educational front…I wish that there would be a works project that created a public transportation infrastructure,” she said.

Obama still has three, if not seven, years to reshape our political landscape, and prove that our hope was legitimate and our trust not misplaced. “Now is the time that he’s got to start making some changes, start taking control,” Western said.

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