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What Changes Have Been Made Since Obama’s Election?

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Aired 11/4/09

Many Americans will remember the election of Barack Obama as one of the most historic moments in our nation's history. It was one year ago today that the United States elected its first African-American president. We'll spend the hour discussing what President Obama has accomplished in the last year, and the major challenges he's faced in trying to achieve his goals for the nation.

U.S. President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks on health insurance reform at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House on September 10, 2009 in Washington, DC. Obama continued the discourse, a day after he addressed the joint session of Congress, urging passage of his national health care plan.
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Above: U.S. President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks on health insurance reform at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House on September 10, 2009 in Washington, DC. Obama continued the discourse, a day after he addressed the joint session of Congress, urging passage of his national health care plan.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. ‘Change we can believe in,’ that was the slogan that swept Barack Obama into the White House a year ago. And change is what we got, from an administration that believes in climate change, to the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, to a president who is actually popular in the rest of the world. But there are also many changes we haven't seen. There have been no magic wand solutions to our deep economic recession. American troops are still in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the U.S. is still holding detainees at Guantanamo. The political bi-partisanship Barack Obama promised is nowhere to be seen, and then there's the healthcare debate. Supporters of Barack Obama were on cloud 9 a year ago, so excited and enthusiastic to see the Bush years end that their expectations may have been exaggerated. The poll numbers tell a story of disappointment. 54% of Americans now say they approve of the job the president is doing, down from 78% on inauguration day. Now, a drop in popularity is expected as the president begins the difficult task of governing, but President Obama's decline in the polls since July has been the steepest drop in 50 years. Today we're going to discuss the Obama presidency one year after he was elected, and we want to hear from you. Were you jumping for joy after last year's election? Do you still feel the same way? What has President Obama handled well? What are you disappointed about? And if you voted for John McCain, has President Obama surprised you in any way? Give us a call with your questions and your comments. The number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. I’d like to welcome my first guest, Don Gonyea, White House correspondent for NPR. Don, welcome to These Days.

DON GONYEA (White House Correspondent, NPR): Hi. Glad to – It’s good to be here, Maureen. Thanks.

CAVANAUGH: Well, you know, you were in Chicago a year ago today and, if you would, just share for us some of the memories because I know the emotions were running very, very high.

GONYEA: It was a remarkable evening. It was a historic evening. I mean, that goes without saying. But it also came after a year in which I had spent the majority of that year, many, many, many, many hours on the Obama campaign plane, flying, you know, from one swing state to the next and to some states that people did not think would turn from red to blue in last year’s voting. But it was – it was just a remarkable night in downtown Chicago, not the least of which was the weather. I mean, it was a spectacularly beautiful, even warm, November day in Chicago when it could just as easily have been ten degrees below zero…

CAVANAUGH: Right.

GONYEA: …with the wind whipping off the lake. But it was, you know, there were some 100,000 people there. The city looked beautiful. And, of course, you know, the country elected Barack Obama overwhelmingly. It was called, I think, at one minute past 10:00 p.m. eastern time – I’m sorry, Chicago time. Chicago time, it was as soon as the west coast polls closed. And it was one of those days when, as a reporter, you look around and you say, well, this is one we’re going to be talking about for…

CAVANAUGH: Right.

GONYEA: …for a long, long, long time.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, well, from that Chicago high of last year, we came down to earth with President Obama this year during his presidency and some of the difficult struggles that he’s faced. I wonder, Don, if you could remind us, what were President Barack Obama’s main goals when he was campaignin – campaigning, that is, and when he was elected?

GONYEA: Well, you’ll recall that, you know, throughout the year there were those rather vague terms ‘hope’ and ‘change’…

CAVANAUGH: Right.

GONYEA: …that were really, you know, the driving slogans of the campaign. But more specifically that meant, you know, a change in U.S. foreign policy. He promised to bring the war on Iraq to an end. He promised to focus more resources on Afghanistan. On the domestic side, he promised, you know, an aggressive push to get the economy back on track, and that really more than anything became the focus the last month, month and a half, of the campaign, especially with the collapse of Lehman Brothers and, you know, and the meltdown that we saw the last week of September, I think it was. And there was the promise on the domestic side throughout the campaign of tackling healthcare reform and getting meaningful healthcare reform passed in the first year. So those really were the main, specific promises that he laid out over the course of what was really, you know, a two-year-long campaign.

CAVANAUGH: Right. There are lots of year after assessments being made today, and I think there is a consensus of political opinion that Barack Obama faced some incredible challenges when he took office last January. I wonder what your assessment is of what the White House feels were the major challenges President Obama has faced in this first year in his – in office.

GONYEA: Well, it’s interesting, yesterday being election day, I went back and looked at that speech he gave in Grant Park a year ago.

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

GONYEA: And there was a passage where he did seem to be preparing the American people for the hard work of governing and the hard work that was about to begin. I mean, campaigns are difficult but it’s nothing like sitting in the oval office and having to come up with policies and get them through congress and make the kind of decisions you have to make as president. But he said in that speech a year ago, you know, we’re not going to get it done in months; it may take years. And he said, there will be mistakes that the White House, that he, as president, and his administration make along the way. And I do think we have really kind of seen what he was talking about then. I mean, that is one promise, if we can call that like his last campaign promise, that has come true, a description of how difficult it would be. They would certainly say that the economy has been, you know, the big domestic challenge as they predicted, and it is one area where they point to some success. They got that $787 billion stimulus passed through the congress. They did it with, you know, without Republican support, so it did not have the bipartisan support that he promised he would find when he was a candidate. He, you know, talked about how important it is to reach across the aisle and find things that you agree on with the other side and find bipartisan solutions to things, well, so far that has eluded him. But they do point to the economic stimulus and they are now able to point to an economy that has begun growing again. So they do take credit for that but, at the same time, they can’t exactly be jumping for joy because the growth is very slow and the job picture remains very bleak and there’s still a lot of talk as to whether or not this could even be a jobless recovery.

CAVANAUGH: Right. I want to pick up on something you said about the bipartisan aspect basically not being there because one of the main themes, as I recall, of President Obama’s candidacy was that he wanted to change politics as usual in Washington, D.C. And what he meant by that was, as you say, reaching across the aisle, finding bipartisan solutions, and that has not happened. If anything, it seems the – both sides have sort of retrenched, with the president trying to reach over but not being able to actually make that. I wonder if that is something that has surprised the Obama administration, how difficult that particular promise was.

GONYEA: I think it has surprised them. I think they thought that these entreaties to the other side, just kind of, you know, making sure he brings them in for discussion in the oval office, I think he thought they would be able to find more of a way to find common ground and move forward. It has been a source of frustration to them. But it is, it is one of the hardest things to do. And, you know, the Republicans, philosophically, had issues with the size of the stimulus. Now, the president would counter that. Their only option was to go back to the, you know, to the policies of President Bush that the White House maintains got the U.S. into this economic fix it’s in in the first place. But you did see these positions harden and even on those early votes on the stimulus package, you know, the Republican votes just were not there. It’s also why we have seen so much attention paid to the likes of the negotiations that took place in the healthcare debate over the past month or so, month or two, with Maine’s moderate Republican Senator Olympia Snow, she has proven to be one of the few, one of the few Republicans that the White House has been able to, you know, really find a way to talk to and come to some kind of an accord with but, again, we don’t know how that issue’s going to play out yet. I might just add quickly that I did cover the Bush White House and I recall President Bush campaigning and talking early on about all the success he’d had back when he was a Texas governor working with Democrats and building coalitions. He, too, ran up against this. Now, it’s a very different situation but it is, again, proving to be one of those very, very, very difficult things in the current climate in Washington, actually finding real bipartisanship.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Don Gonyea, White House correspondent for NPR, and we’re talking about Barack Obama’s first year in office, remembering his election a year ago today. You know, Don, some of the strongest critics of the president have actually been liberals, liberal supporters of the Obama candidacy who have taken issue with him over Guantanamo, the detainees still being there, gay rights, his less than aggressive support at times for a public option on the healthcare debate. Has this come as a surprise to the White House, oh, and also, were perhaps – did liberal supporters perhaps expect too much?

GONYEA: Well, this I do not think has been a huge surprise. I mean, these are the supporters who were his earliest supporters and they were really the ones who were so critical to him during the primaries, particularly when the Iraq war was a major issue and he and Senator – then Senator Hillary Clinton were, you know, slugging it out in primary after primary. And he used her vote authorizing the president to go to war in Iraq, President Bush, against her. But you could see him, as the general election, you know, approached moderating some of his stances somewhat. And given the number of independents and the number of Republican votes that he got, it was probably no surprise that his policies, once in office, would not be enough to satisfy the liberal voters within the Democratic voting block. And, you’re right, he’s angered them by not moving as quickly as they would like on Guantanamo. He has not ruled out the possibility, you know, of, you know, detaining terror suspects, you know, without, you know, giving them appropriate trials and things like that. But there’s also, you know, concern that he will, though we don’t know what he’s going to do for sure, escalate the Afghanistan war beyond what this block of his supporters would like. They wanted him to pull out of Iraq sooner than the timetable that he is now on, though, truth be told, it’s not too much longer than, you know, than what he promised during the campaign. He’s still looking at the combat troops being out of there by the end of next year. And then they are perhaps—perhaps most vocal in voicing their frustration that he – while he talks about wanting the public option in any healthcare reform, he does not, you know, portray it as a make or break thing, you know, and he will not say he would veto anything that would not include – that does not include a public option. So there are a lot of things for them to grumble about.

CAVANAUGH: Well, when we talk about this next year, Don, it will be the mid-term 2010 elections, when we celebrate this anniversary again. And I’m wondering, if the president maintains that 54% job approval rating, if – what else will he have to do between now and then to make sure that the Democrats hold on to the congress, which is, one would assume, what he wants to accomplish.

GONYEA: Well, it is very important that they get some healthcare reform passed. They have to be able to hold that up as a victory. And, again, we don’t know what it’ll look like but whatever it looks like, you can bet they’ll be – they’ll, you know, portray it as a major step forward beyond anything that any previous president had achieved. We will also, by the time next year rolls around, be seeing that draw down, that very significant draw down of troops from Iraq. We’ll see how that plays. We’ll have to see what the situation on the ground is there. And, again, Afghanistan is just a complete wildcard. We don’t know what he’s going to do and we don’t know how it will work. And that is going to be something that, you know, could be a major issue next year. But there are a lot of things in the air. He’s got some time. He’s got some time. And they’ve, as I said earlier, they’ve always said it will take time. But next year’s election, while we can expect Republican gains, if history tells us anything, it will certainly be seen as a referendum on his presidency so far.

CAVANAUGH: Don, thanks so much.

GONYEA: That went by fast. Thank you. I’m glad I could be here.

CAVANAUGH: Thanks so much. I’ve been speaking with Don Gonyea, White House correspondent for NPR. And when I return, another guest, Zoltan Hajnal, professor of Political Science at UC San Diego, and your calls. The number is 1-888-895-5727. These Days continues in just a few moments here on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. And today we’re discussing the Obama presidency a year after he was elected President of the United States. We want to hear from you. We want to hear from you if you were happy last year during – when Obama was elected. Do you still feel the same way? What do you think the president has handled well and what, if anything, are you disappointed about? We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Joining us now is my guest, Zoltan Hajnal. He’s professor of Political Science at UC San Diego. Professor Hajnal, welcome.

ZOLTAN HAJNAL (Professor, Political Science, UCSD): Thank you. It’s great to be here.

CAVANAUGH: Now, you know, when we look back in history to November 4, 2008, what would you say was the significance of the election of Barack Obama?

HAJNAL: Well, obviously the racial transformation and I think more than anything else that’s what America was excited about and there was, you know, a hope that this would transform race relations in America, it would transform who we are and how the world saw us. It’s not clear to me that that kind of transformation actually has occurred, and we can talk more about that. But, certainly at that point, a lot of people thought his election meant in some way, shape or form, post-racial America.

CAVANAUGH: Is it – Was it inevitable that considering how high some people’s emotions were on that day and the hopes they had for Obama’s presidency, that we’ve seen a sort of a drop, a bottoming out, when reality sort of awakened supporters of Barack Obama?

HAJNAL: Sure, and I think the expectations were unrealistic. And we sort of have seen that kind of pattern in previous cases of a new racial leader at the mayoral level, in some cases the gubernatorial level, tremendous hope and expectations, and they’re never met. I mean, a mayor doesn’t have the power. Even Barack Obama, as president, does not have the power to change a lot of the things that people want changed. And racial divisions that were there before are largely going to continue, so differences over whether we should have affirmative action and other kinds of racialized policies are going to largely continue regardless and have been in other cases.

CAVANAUGH: I want to speak to you a little bit more about the larger domestic and international policies that President Obama has pursued during this first – first months in office because, of course, it’s not a full year yet. I’m wondering though, if it’s – with all this talk about this election anniversary, do you feel that it’s too early to give an assessment of President Obama’s work on various issues?

HAJNAL: Yeah, I think it’s too early for a couple reasons. One is, the problems he’s dealing with are massive and, as Don Gonyea mentioned a little earlier, he and others – it was clear that you couldn’t solve the foreign policy issues, Iran and Iraq and Afghanistan, in a short period of time. It’s a process that may take years; it may never work out. Turning the economy around to the extent that the president has power to do that, it’s like moving a incredibly large ocean tanker and that’s going to take—and has taken—a long time. So to expect success after a little less than a year is, I think, unwarranted. And in terms of judging him, if we look back to other presidents, you see that usually in the first term, as, I think, was already mentioned, there is this slow decline in support for the president but that doesn’t necessarily indicate the likelihood of them being reelected or future electoral results. So, for example, Bill Clinton, after a year had lost significant support and we all know he went on to win reelection and was quite popular for some time. So one year out is just too early to have a final assessment of success and any prediction of future electoral gains or losses.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Professor Zoltan Hajnal. He is professor of Political Science at UC San Diego. And we’re taking your calls on this one year anniversary of the election of Barack Obama as president. The number is 1-888-895-5727. And let’s hear from Craig in Encinitas. Good morning, Craig. Welcome to These Days.

CRAIG (Caller, Encinitas): Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: Yes. What’s your comment?

CRAIG: Well, I think based on everything that he inherited in coming into office that he’s really done a pretty good job. And if you look at the economic turmoil that the country was in at the time, that was a huge obstacle to overcome. And he did get—granted, it wasn’t bipartisan support—he did pass the stimulus bill, which we’ve seen some growth in the economy. Granted, the jobs haven’t reached the level that we anticipated but we have seen the stock market rebound and there is hope on the economic front for this country which, domestically, I think, is the biggest – is probably the biggest concern for our country is getting people back to work and not having the concerns that, based on the housing crisis and all those things combined, that frankly at the end of last year, we – there was a sense of near panic in this country because of the economic situation.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for that. Thanks – thanks for your call, Craig. Professor Hajnal, that’s a very interesting point because I believe for most of Barack Obama’s candidacy the big issue was overseas…

HAJNAL: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: …it was the war in Iraq. And then as we closed in on election day, the idea that our economy was virtually melting down and that was going to be the issue that took on the major importance when he became president if he won the election, that was a complete turnaround.

HAJNAL: Absolutely. And, of course, he had no control over that. And I think the caller’s generally correct in that on the issue of the economy, it’s hard to say that Obama hasn’t done at least reasonably well so that, again, the monumental stimulus bill was passed and the early signs are that we have had growth. Now it’s probably too early to confirm that the economy’s going to continue to grow, so on that front I think few would argue that he’s done poorly. Of course, more broadly, if you talk to or if you read the one-year post mortems in the press, it all depends on what your political perspective is. So from those on the right, he’s getting C-minuses and Ds and maybe even some Fs. And from most of those on the left, he’s getting As and Bs. And there is, as you talked about a little earlier, the concern on the far left that he’s not being liberal enough and I’m sure that will continue. So it all depends on where you are as to how you view him.

CAVANAUGH: And sticking with the economy for just a moment, we just had this incredibly tiny ’09 election involving some governors and some congress people across the nation. But in the election of the New Jersey governor, his big – New Jersey and Virginia both now have Republicans in – elected to their governorships and both of them stressed the importance of jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs. Is the idea that we’re perhaps headed into a jobless recovery going to be a real political liability for Barack Obama?

HAJNAL: If the economy doesn’t turn around, yeah, and if those jobs aren’t created then that will be a liability. I mean, historically, when Americans vote, the two big issues are the economy, including jobs, and what’s going on in terms of wars, and are we being attacked or are we losing a war? And we can generally predict what will happen in a midterm election or a presidential election based on those two factors more than anything else. So if the economy doesn’t turn around, if Afghanistan declines, and we leave Iraq and it deteriorates and declines then, yes, Obama and the Democrats are in serious trouble.

CAVANAUGH: We’re taking your calls, 1-888-895-5727. Let’s hear from John calling from San Diego. Good morning, John. Welcome to These Days.

JOHN (Caller, San Diego): Well, thank you. I love your show. Thanks for having me. I…

CAVANAUGH: Thank you.

JOHN: …have a few comments and I think maybe a question at the end. One is, my wife and I were ecstatic when Barack was elected. It was just an amazing event for us and for our four-year-old, too, who’s kind of understanding now what’s going on because we always talk about him. And the – as much as a four-year-old can. But what I wanted to say was, I truly think that it’s the ongoing apathy of the American people that is driving this train and what I mean by that is this self-fulfilling prophecy that nothing ever changes. It doesn’t matter who’s in office or who the president is necessarily, it’s just that this is the viewpoint, of course, is where I sit is what I see, which the professor kind of mentioned just a second ago, and so I think that’s a big portion of it. And after eight years of I think a majority of people being beat down by the former president’s White House experience, I think that also has to be calculated into this. I would – What I’m disappointed about with Barack is I would have rather had him concentrate more on the most pressing issue which is the economy as opposed to taking on all these other things at one time. Next, would be what – another disappointment is not really getting something going as far as on the grassroots level with gay marriage and with gays in the military. I’m a Marine Corps officer and I have no problem with either of those two positions in the positive, having gay marriage, having people who are gay serve in the military because that’s what we do, I mean, we serve our country and I don’t think, you know, I don’t want to harken back to the days where blacks had to serve in their own units and, you know, can we not remind ourselves of this? And that’s one thing that I’m disappointed about, another thing I guess. In the end, I guess my question is, maybe for the professor is, if he thinks that any of this makes sense as far as the apathy of the American people and then the next question is what he thinks of political parties or representatives, and in this case it happens to be Republicans because Democrats are in the White House, where winning at all cost is the position no matter what the outcome is for your own people, meaning they will take the opposite position and they can apply to Democrats, too, in the other situation.

CAVANAUGH: Right. John, yes, we got the question and thank you so much for your comments and your question.

JOHN: Yeah, thank – thank you for having me.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. What do you think of John’s comment and question?

HAJNAL: Well, a lot of it’s right on. So the lack of change – I wouldn’t necessarily call it apathy on the part of the American public, I would say that we are a diverse population and we have views on the left and views on the right and if you were to sum us all up, we have fairly moderate views. So it’s hard for any politician to move far to the left or far to the right because the bulk of the people are in the middle. And so Barack Obama, like pretty much every other successful politician, is a pragmatist and does want to win reelection and so you can’t stray too far from the median voter and expect to win reelection. So that’s going to not change and I don’t think more protests will make a large difference on that because you’ll probably have protests on the left and the right. So we are – we’re getting essentially what we vote for or what we want in some sense even though those on the far left will be angry and those on the far left – right will be angry as well. You know, the other factor that does limit the change that we have in America is that money is involved in politics and I think the caller mentioned that as well. So you have very rich business interests trying to essentially maintain their status and their privileged status in America and so that’s going to put a brake on what change we might have as well. And I don’t see either of those factors changing much in the near future, so I don’t have a solution to the caller.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I guess we didn’t really expect it but let me ask you something. There have been some political observers who say that during the last eight years, ten years, wherever you want to put it, the political climate in America has swung so far to the right that being in the middle is actually a lot far – far right than it used to be. And do you think that perhaps this is what Barack Obama is realizing now that he is in the presidency, that, indeed, being in the middle is actually in a position that is going to disappoint some of his more liberal supporters?

HAJNAL: Well, yeah, I mean, I think we shifted a little bit back to the left in 2008. So there was movement and certainly among the active electorate there was a shift to the left. But, yeah, Barack Obama is hamstrung by, if you want to call it, the moderately conservative populous that he governs. And he, if he wants to have Republicans support his policies, he has to shift to the right. Or even if he wants some of his Democratic party members in congress and the Senate, he has to shift to a moderately conservative or middle of the road position, and in order to do that, that – if he does that, and he is doing that in order to get things passed, that will anger those on the far left for sure.

CAVANAUGH: We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727 on this anniversary of the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. And Matt is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Matt. Welcome to San Diego.

MATT (Caller, San Diego): Hi. Thanks for taking my call.

CAVANAUGH: You’re welcome.

MATT: I just was totally excited when Obama got elected also and – but I think I tried to be as informed as possible and I think most people who were following the campaign should have recognized that a lot of the things that he’s doing right now are exactly what he said he was going to do. I’ve been surprised at the disillusionment that has happened. His stance on homosexuality was always fairly moderate and so people shouldn’t be surprised about that too much. I also think, in terms of people who are more conservative or more middle class or lower-middle class also are starting to recognize that he’s working for them. I have a very conservative friend who I asked him after Obama was elected, so what’s your beef with Obama now? And he said basically, well, I really shouldn’t complain because I’m using all of his programs. I mean, he bought a house and he’s getting the tax credit and he did the Cash for Clunkers program, and he’s benefiting from all the policies. So, in general, I mean, I definitely think that the disillusionment was more of a issue with lack of information about who Obama is and what he was fighting for in the first place overall. That’s just my opinion.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Matt, I’m interested to know, has the president done anything in these months that has surprised you?

MATT: Overall, not so much, I don’t feel like. I mean, I preferred that he would have gotten our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan but that’s another thing. He made Afghanistan a big deal right from the beginning, and Pakistan, and so I kind of knew he wasn’t going to get them out of there and that the fact that he’s going to put more in there is probably actually – I – What I’ve always said is if you’re going to do it, you might as well do it right, and so that’s kind of what I feel like he’s doing whereas but I prefer that he was – that we weren’t there at all. So, I mean, so far – though I think like the one caller said earlier, the one thing that I was surprised is kind of that he did take on so many things all at one time. That is, I think, the one big surprise. But, of course, there are lots of different departments in the government and they can’t just sit idle while he just works on the economy so, you know…

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you. Thanks, Matt. Thanks so much for calling in and talking with us. You know, we have to take a short break. When we return, we will continue talking about this one year anniversary of the election of Barack Obama, not his swearing in as President of the United States. And we’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. These Days will continue in just a moment.

CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. My guest is Professor Zoltan Hajnal. He’s a professor of Political Science at UC San Diego. And we’re discussing the Obama presidency one year after he was elected. We’re hearing from people who voted for Barack Obama and asking them if they’re happy with the way he’s handled the presidency so far, if they’re disappointed about anything. And if you voted for John McCain, we’re wondering if President Obama has surprised you in any way. The number to call is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Let’s go right to the phones and speak with Alex in Rancho Bernardo. Good morning, Alex. Welcome to These Days.

ALEX (Caller, Rancho Bernardo): Hello. Thanks for taking my call. I think the problem that our Americans have is they keep electing the same Manchurian candidate. First of all, they don’t understand that, you know, presidents they don’t have the power to, you know, write the laws. It’s congress and the Senate that need to be changed. And then they keep voting for the same two parties that keep the same people around. I do understand that it’s too early but, you know, but Obama has more power as far as international policies, goals versus domestic. The domestics have to oblige by the congress versus the international policies you have actually, you have more leeway and you can do a lot more than he’s doing. And he just keeps going with the same policies as far as the domestics go, the same people who have ruled this country, it’s corporate or the lobbyists, or the same people in power. I mean, you know I felt sad for most Americans who get jovial and real happy about the election of a president but really he’s the last signature on a document.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you.

ALEX: And you’re not going to change it.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Alex, for that comment. And I want to talk to you, Professor Hajnal, about that. It’s true Barack Obama was a newcomer, basically, to Washington when he became President of the United States. He was just a first term Senator from Illinois. But a lot of the people he’s dealing with have been in Washington for a long, long time, as Alex points out.

HAJNAL: Well, one of the interesting things is almost a year later, we no longer talk about President Obama as being inexperienced and we no longer have concerns that he’ll mess things up because of his lack of inexperience and so that’s actually, I think, a fairly strong positive on his part in that he didn’t screw up in any sort of really major way. I mean, there were small missteps with the Henry Louis Gates episode but he hasn’t had a major misstep and a lot of presidents who were much more experienced than he was have – did have missteps. So on that, if he hasn’t changed as much as a lot of people would like, that’s one thing. But he actually has not screwed up, as many other presidents have in the past. So his relative inexperience didn’t appear to cost him and he’s done reasonably well on that.

CAVANAUGH: And Henry Louis Gates, just for people who don’t remember, is the Harvard professor who was basically arrested at his door front and started a whole…

HAJNAL: Cried racism and…

CAVANAUGH: Yes, right.

HAJNAL: Right.

CAVANAUGH: The whole thing. Let’s take another call. Craig is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Craig. Welcome to These Days.

CRAIG (Caller, San Diego): Good morning. I just (audio dropout) comment. I’m Hispanic and I come from a primarily conservative family background. What I found interesting in my family is most of my family voted for Obama and the discussions we had before the elections was, well, a lot of what he believes in is not what we believe in but I think it was primarily momentum and the want – the need for a change and – but now that Obama’s in office, we kind of sit around and talk about – and the family’s surprised at a lot of his views and political views were nothing what they thought they were. So I just think it was kind of interesting. I think sometimes my family and my Hispanic friends, we tend to vote based on race and not so much because we understand the politics behind it.

CAVANAUGH: So you thought Barack Obama was a lot more liberal than he’s turned out to be? Is that the idea?

CRAIG: That was the idea in the family, you know, they were pumped up to get him going and then now we’re here and we’re saying, wow, there’s a lot more of him that we didn’t know. So, it just – I just find it interesting.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you. Thank you for calling in, Craig. I wonder…

HAJNAL: Can I interject…

CAVANAUGH: Yes, please.

HAJNAL: You know, I think one of the more interesting stories about 2008 that isn’t told as often is how highly racialized that election was. So if you look at the exit polls in that election, obviously over 90% of African Americans voted for Obama and we can sort of expect that for different reasons. But also two-thirds of Latinos and two-thirds – almost two-thirds of Asian Americans voted for Barack Obama. So you have, basically, the – a massive majority of racial and ethnic minorities on the Democratic side voting for Obama. And then on the other side, even though many whites voted for Obama, McCain support was white support. 91% of all McCain voters were white voters in 2008. So you’ve got one of the most racialized presidential elections in American history and if you sort of think forward, in terms of demographic trends, the group that’s growing is the racial and ethnic minority population, particularly Latinos and particularly Asian Americans. And that’s a real problem for the GOP. If they are getting 91% of their votes from white America and white America, by 2050 will no longer be a majority of the population, then they’re in real trouble. So they have to come up with some way to appeal to minorities and I think as this caller mentioned, it’s not the case that minorities are all liberal on all different avenues. Hispanics can be very conservative, especially on social issues. Asian Americans can also be socially conservative. So there is an avenue for Republicans to attract these voters and there will be ways in which an Obama administration angers minorities who have some opinions that are on the right. So it’s a very interesting story but it’s one that should be commanding the attention, I think, of more Republicans and I think Democrats should be thinking about it as well.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Ed is calling from Lakeside. Good morning, Ed. Welcome to These Days.

ED (Caller, Lakeside): Good morning. A surprising program this morning on his anniversary of election. My point is, as an octogenarian, long-time Democrat, a lifetime Democrat, is that the Democratic party – Obama is talking very well. He does a very good job. Some accuse him of speaking too much. However, the Democratic party itself does not speak with the language of Main Street which is it is supposed to represent, whereas the Republican party has it mastered. And now, just to quote the title of one recent book, it’s called “Talking Right” by Geoffrey Nunberg, and this is the title: “How Conservatives Turn Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show.” And that’s true. They do not have vox populi. The Republicans have it mastered. They talked that way six weeks before the election and on, and then afterwards they behaved quite differently. It’s corporate America gone wild.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you, Ed. Thank you for sharing that title with us as well. I wonder, Professor Hajnal, has the – this rightwing opposition, this Republican rightwing opposition to the Obama policy, basically it seems any policy that he supports, has that been surprising to you? This sort of wall that he’s faced in Republican response?

HAJNAL: Not really. I mean, I think that they have a set of views and their views are in opposition to almost everything he’s doing. What is surprising is that the rest of the Republican party is not figuring out that they have to think about changing their methods. So I actually differ from the caller in the sense that Republicanism is in trouble right now if you look at party identification figures. The number of Republicans has actually gone down since Obama was elected. Democrats obviously won huge majorities in the last election so Republicanism is in trouble and one potential solution is to move to the middle and to be more moderate. And I would have thought that sort of more mainstream Republicans would band together and would realize that they are losing this battle right now. And it seems obvious to me and I think a lot of other people that the way to win more votes and win more supporters is to move to the middle and that’s been, in many cases, drowned out by the far right.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Barbara is calling from Vista, and, Barbara, thanks for waiting so long.

BARBARA (Caller, Vista): Hi there. I’m a progressive Democrat who really would’ve liked to have seen Hillary Clinton chosen as the candidate of the party. I think she had far more experience, intelligence, knowledge, and she certainly had more guts and spoke – and power. And I find Obama to be a leader – a very vast – a poor leader. He’s extremely weak. He comes across as someone who dithers. I hate to say this but Cheney’s comment dithering, he’s persuading, he’s thinking, he’s do – You’ve got to be a leader. You’ve got to be decisive. There’s no decisiveness there. He’s extremely inexperienced. And he does not lead alone. He has a party that does not work together as Democrats. You have the Blue Dogs, who are really Republicans in Democrats clothing, according to my feeling, and who really should not even be supported by the party because they don’t contribute to the Senate electoral committees. They shouldn’t be there. Now I didn’t vote for Democrats to have Republicans there in the party working against the very principles of our party. He’s no FDR. He’s no LBJ. And thank God we didn’t have this administration and these congressional Democrats who, by the way, I have to say one thing, the bottom line here are the lobbyists. They control this country whether they’re paying off the Republicans or the Democrats. The will of the people, the needs of the average Joe and Jane are not in the – That’s the last thing they care about. It’s a corporatocracy…

CAVANAUGH: Barbara? We got it. Thank you. I know you stayed on the line for a long time. Thank you so much. We have your – the thrust of your comments. And there is someone who is a lib – characterizes herself as a liberal Democrat who is not happy with President Obama.

HAJNAL: And she’s absolutely not alone. There are many on the left who think that Obama hasn’t done enough. You know, he is a politician. He’s a pragmatic politician. He is following, largely, the wishes of the median voter and whether or not he’s a leader is a different question. So I personally prefer someone who thinks and maybe dithers a little bit before they act but, you know, we’re all – get to be voters and we all have our own opinions, and the caller’s opinion is as valid as mine.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s try to sneak in one last call. Peter is calling from Rancho Bernardo. Good morning, Peter. Welcome to These Days.

PETER (Caller, Rancho Bernardo): Thank you for taking my call. I think the change is being – never be overnight. I think Barack have done a good job. The reason for that is because the healthcare and Middle East problem, are the very difficult agenda in America but nobody try to know about if they should go to rich people. I think the healthcare, there are people that are going to serve the country where there are little children that are being left behind. And it is very hard to serve all the military family at the same time.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Peter. Thank you for that. And his – the thrust of his comments was healthcare and healthcare, I guess, is the thing that is really defining the president’s – at least his first year in office. What do you think that we will see, Professor Hajnal, coming up from the healthcare debate by the end of this year, perhaps the anniversary, the actual anniversary of his presidency.

HAJNAL: Well, I’m not sure of the timing of it but something will pass. I think there’s too much invested in this effort for it to totally fail and have nothing go through congress. Something will pass. It won’t be as expansive as the Obama administration originally wanted so it’ll be a half-measure of some sort, whether – how – to what extent it includes a public option, mandatory coverage and that sort of thing is, I think, still up in the air. So it’ll be a partial victory. It will probably cover more Americans than were covered before, which, I think, is important. And so I think, yeah, it’ll be a case where he expended a lot of capital and wasn’t able to address other issues so it had a cost but it’ll end up with a slim victory of some sort.

CAVANAUGH: And we’ve run out of time. I really want to thank you so much for being here.

HAJNAL: Thank you very much. It was great to be here.

CAVANAUGH: I’ve been speaking with Zoltan Hajnal. He’s professor of Political Science at UC San Diego. And my first guest was Don Gonyea, White House correspondent for NPR. There were so many people who wanted to become part of the conversation and we really welcome you to post your comments online at KPBS.org/TheseDays. You’ve been listening to These Days on KPBS. Stay with us for hour two coming up in just a few minutes right here on KPBS.

Comments

Avatar for user 'katje'

katje | November 4, 2009 at 11:09 a.m. ― 5 years ago

I was greatly amused by the one woman who called up during this segment and identified herself as "progressive Democrat" and then proceeded to rip into President Obama. She praised Hillary Clinton (who I actually admire) as gutsy.
Well, caller, I hate to break this to you, but had Mrs. Clinton been the nominee last year, we'd all be talking about President John McCain now. Would you prefer that?
There is no way in Hades should could have won.And then, you have the nerve to hold up President Lyndon Johnson as role model? Hello? This is the man who, despite his good works in other areas, mired us in Vietnam for a decade -- paving the way for Richard Nixon. That worked out really well, didn't it?
News flash, ma'am: The 60s are over. The Great Society is over. The New Deal is over. This is 2009, and more than a few of us who supported Obama do not want repeats of those eras. Deal with it.
And one more thing, "progressive" caller: Anyone who would quote a morally bankrupt war criminal like Dick Cheney is NO progressive.

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