Barack Obama will assume office on 20 January 2009

How would you describe him?


1. What are main reasons Barack Obama will take presidential oath tomorrow? Why him? Except he won election, of course 🙂

2. If you have to describe him with one word (or two-three) what word would you use and why?


Audrey Haynes, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Georgia

1. First, he won the nomination. Before that, it was Iowa. Winning Iowa was a critical step to winning the nomination. Having a well-organized campaign, with the message that resonated, the ability to mobilize supporters and aura of intelligence, deliberation, character and compassion were important components to winning.

He won the general election. Again, it was message (which fit the need of the country at the time), mobilization, and capability. After watching the McCain campaign implode, there was Sen. Obama’s campaign looking very capable. They ran a strong campaign that was relatively more focused on the issues and more gracious than most of the modern campaigns before them.

Some might say that he is what the country needs at this moment in our history.

A more academic answer might come from two dimensions – partisanship – the weakening of Republican partisanship to some degree, coupled with a weak and somewhat ambivalent Republican nominee, mounting economic unrest (brought about under a Republican president), concern over the billions spent on a war that many see as non-winnable, and the ability of one candidate, Obama, to inspire voters to hope that these things can be overcome.

A- one thing – I think that Sen. Obama would have won whether he was black or white. Some people suggest that Obama was able to win because of larger vote turnouts among blacks.

That may have helped in specific cases, but it is also likely that that increased was countered by an increase in voters who are not supportive of a black candidate.

For whites and blacks, Hispanics or other – the fact that he was from an ethnic minority was not generally the main reason they voted for him. If that were the case, then we should have expected candidates such as Alan Keyes and others to do better. Sen. Obama won because of a confluence of factors, most of which were viewed to be in his favor, including his diverse background. In many ways, Sen. Obama is the face of America to the world. He is the melting pot and a testimony to what can happen in a country that gives one an opportunity. For all its faults, it is still what makes this country great, and while everyone knows America is not perfect, ultimately the majority of its people want it to be the ideal of freedom and equality.

2. Intelligent, informed, open-minded, deliberative, methodical, steady, shrewd, appealing, positive…I could go on. But the most important is probably related to his intelligence and capability.

Bush was a very political shrewd person, and more intelligent that most give him credit for, but he was generally not thought to be open-minded. He thinks he is right, still does.

Sean Wilentz, Professor, History Department, Princeton University

1. The main reason why is that a long conservative era finally collapsed, and Obama was there to carry forward the liberal standard.

2. He is shrewd, articulate, and prudent in his idealism. But he is also, still, largely unknown. We will see.

Ken Sherrill, Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Science, Hunter College , CUNY

1. I think Obama won because he had the strongest understanding of the American people’s desire for peace, economic renewal, and national unity.

2. I would use these words: very smart, a genuine intellectual, extraordinarily organized and disciplined, highly self-confident.

Timothy McKeown, Professor, Department of Political Science, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

1. The Republicans would have had a difficult time winning the presidency this year because of the wars and the poor state of the economy.  (If you look back in 2008 for forecasts of the November vote, you will see that they were generally accurate (one I recall in particular, by Alan Abramowitz of Emory University in Atlanta, predicted a 55-45 Obama victory, noting that it might be a bit smaller than that because of Obama being an African American.)

Obama also ran a great campaign.  He is an extremely effective public speaker, and he came across as more even-tempered and mature than McCain did, even though McCain was the older candidate.  While Biden is not as powerful a personality, he compared quite favorably to his Republican counterpart Sarah Palin.

He also had an extremely effective and very well funded campaign organization.  You would have to go back to the Kennedy-Johnson years to find a comparable Democratic Party organizational strength.  The mobilization of voters in battleground states was very effective. His volunteers were very focused and had seemingly boundless energy. Although they were cheerful, there was an undercurrent of grim resolve — a feeling that a McCain victory would be a very dark day for the country and the world. (Here is a link to a blog entry I wrote in October, 2008 about voter registration efforts here that I think captures the mood among Obama volunteers):

Be sure to look at the poll results there, too.

I spent much of Election Day knocking on doors in Durham, NC, and I met very, very few people who had not already voted.  Obama won 76% of the vote here in Durham County, and 76% of registered voters voted. (Our best precinct had 90% turnout, a number that is so high that normally I would think that it was a typographical error).  North Carolina was one of three states of the old Confederacy (the slave-holding states in the Civil War) to vote for Obama — the others were Virginia and Florida. Most of the adult population here understood the significance of that — both those who voted for him and those who voted against.  There are very few moments in one’s life when one knows one is making history, and  everyone else knows it, too.  This was such a moment.

It has often been noted that voter turnout in this election was higher than any other election since the 1960s.  That is true, but that observation neglects the fact that our population is less concentrated in large urban areas than it was 40 or 50 years ago, and it is less unionized.  It was easier to reach voters, particulary by going door-to-door in high density areas.  That the Obama campaign achieved comparable turnout levels in a country where the population is much more widely distributed is just amazing.

Michael Munger, Professor, and Chair, Department of Political Science, Duke University

1. He reminds me of an old quote from Lyndon B. Johnson, US President from 1963-1965:  “If you do everything, absolutely everything, that you can do, then you will win.”  His campaign tried to do everything, and did most of it right.  Now, we will see if his administration can do the same thing.

2. Inspiring. Audacious

Steffen Schmidt, University Professor of Political Science Iowa State University

Obama is a metaphor  for what people in the USA and in other countries around the world as well need at this point in history – he is EXPECTATION.

By that I mean that people are looking for someone who can focus on what we can agree on and NOT what divides us. There is a great deal of fear and uncertainty especially on economic security, jobs, and on “getting along”.

President Obama is CALM; he is SMART (Brilliant really), and he is a symbol. Of family. Of tolerance. Of the good of all – the common good  – not the “special interests”.

This is a very dangerous time for the world. Obama seems like a “HEALER”.

Yeah – think that is the one word I would choose to explain why Americans elected Barak Obama. If you look at his philosophy (and not his skin color), he could be the president of almost any country.

Thomas Birkland, Professor of Public Policy, North Carolina State University

I think the one word I’d use is smart. Here’s why:

Obama won this election for a lot of reasons. But he put himself in a position to win by having an extremely well managed political organization, with excellent leaders, in the key states he had to win, such as Iowa. The U.S. presidential election really is a set of state-by-state contests in both the primaries and the general election. Obama won the party’s nomination by having and excellent organization, smart leaders in the campaign, and by ensuring that his staff knew the rules about how delegates would be selected. Knowing the rules is a big part of this, and my sense is that Hillary Clinton’s staff never really learned the rules because they never envisioned a competitive primary.

Michael Cheney, Professor of Communication at University of Illinois at Springfield

BHO was able to speak about change from his first speech announcing his campaign in February 2007 through his speech at Grant Park in November 2008. He personified change more than any other candidate. He was not part of the DC establishment and did feel indebted to some past legacies.

He was also post baby-boom generation with its constant cultural war debates which George W Bush and Bill Clinton typified.,

He was also post racial in that he was not a product of the civil rights movement like Jackson and Sharpton and even Lewis.

So in many ways he avoided the divisions and stereotypes that would doom other candidates.

He also showed that as a leader he would be calm and thoughtful and inspire us with his rhetoric, In his speech in Springfield he said “There is power in words.” While others demean that talent, the Presidency is often considered a bully pulpit and those who have spoken best have used it best. From Lincoln through FDR through Reagan to Obama.

David McCuan, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Sonoma State University

My thinking is that this is the most critical Inauguration of a President certainly since 1932, if not ever.  The problems and challenges in the country and across the world are mammoth.

Thus, Tuesday’s Inauguration of President-Elect Obama is about the end of one challenge, and the beginning of a new set of challenges for the country, for democracy, and for the future direction of the world.

His oath and Inauguration is about much more, therefore, than just merely the nomination of the first African-American President in our history. His acceptance and nod as the 44th President of the United States is about the next chapter of history for all of us and resonates far beyond the shores of just this country.

In a word, his Inauguration is:  Monumental

And, in a word, that Inaguration remains: Challenging for what comes next.

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