LEWISBURG, Pa. – President-elect Barack Obama has a tremendous opportunity to bring about the change he promised during his two-year campaign, political scientist and commentator Norman J. Ornstein told a crowd at Bucknell University on Tuesday night.
But he will have to reach across political party lines to do so -- and perhaps embrace ideas from some of the most entrenched conservatives in the GOP, said Ornstein, speaking in Trout Auditorium. “He has a rare opportunity to move quickly and early and make things happen,” Ornstein said. “Trying to do it with your party alone is a recipe for failure.”
Senior advisor A senior advisor to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute,Ornstein was the final speaker in the Bucknell Forum’s “The Citizen and Politics in America” series. Previous speakers included presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and a panel of national pollsters, who analyzed voter sentiment before the Nov. 4 election.
Ornstein, who describes himself as a “raging moderate,” is a frequent guest on television shows ranging from CBS News programs to “The Colbert Report,” on which he was the first guest to appear twice.
Obama’s election as the first African-American president was extraordinary in many ways, Ornstein noted, and the president-elect has managed to parlay an electoral landslide into an early high approval rating of about 68 percent, according to a recent Gallop poll.
Similar to President Clinton In many ways, however, Obama is in a similar position as President Clinton was when he took office in 1992. The country was in the midst of an economic downturn, and Congress was stacked with a Democratic majority as it is now. But Clinton was unable to galvanize support for sweeping change and on issues such as health care during his first two years in office. It was not until he moved to a more centrist form of governing, Ornstein said, that Clinton was able to move forward his agenda.
If he were Obama, Ornstein said, he would extend an invitation to a couple of prominent Republicans to serve in his Cabinet – perhaps keeping on Secretary of Defense Bob Gates and naming Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar secretary of state. Ornstein also recommended that Obama find a place for Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel and include his campaign rival, Sen. John McCain, possibly in discussions on the issue of immigration.
“There are some hard-core conservatives that want to make the process work,” Ornstein said. “The critical question will not be whether we will have partisanship. The critical question will be whether you view the people on the other side of the aisle as your adversaries or your enemies. I hope Obama will not term these things as us versus the enemy.”
Economic crisis The fact that the United States is in the midst of economic crisis could help Obama’s presidency, if he takes steps to revive the economy and address health care, education, environmental and energy issues collectively, Ornstein said.
“The president-elect’s first priority is to jumpstart the economy and move us out of this,” Ornstein said. “It will be all stimulus all the time. … Most presidents can’t accomplish many things at once. He can now make a down payment in several areas by putting it in a package of economic stimulus.”
Forum launches new series Focusing on major issues in the 2008 presidential election, the Bucknell Forum series “The Citizen and Politics in America” featured nationally renowned leaders, scholars and commentators examining issues at the forefront of today’s national discourse from multi-disciplinary perspectives and a diversity of viewpoints in a model for civil discourse.
In 2009, the Bucknell Forum continues with a new 18-month series focused on “Global Leadership: Questions for the 21st Century.”
The inaugural speaker in the new series will be F.W. de Klerk, the former South African president who in 1993 won the Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela. De Klerk, whose leadership helped bring an end to apartheid in South Africa, gave the order to free Nelson Mandela from a life in prison.
De Klerk will speak at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19, at the Weis Center for the Performing Arts. His talk, “Bridging the Gap: Globalization without Isolation,” will be free and open to the public. For more information, visit The Bucknell Forum.
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