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UCR Scholars Analyze Election Results

UCR Scholars Analyze Election Results

Obama's election is historic and inspiring, panelists say.

(November 4, 2008)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – The 2008 presidential race was historic in the election of Sen. Barack Obama as the nation’s first African American president and energized minority and first-time voters, UCR scholars agreed in a panel discussion two days after the election.

But Obama’s agenda of social and environmental issues likely will be pushed to a back burner by the necessity of addressing the economic crisis, they said.

“I’m giddy, tempered with dread,” said John Cioffi, assistant professor of political science. “Given the severity of economic conditions a lot of environmental programs are going to be put on hold. They tend to be expensive and the costs are front-loaded.”

The exception could be where environmental policy supports new industry that would put more people to work, he said.

Reviving the economy must be Obama’s priority, said Anil Deolalikar, professor of economics and associate dean of CHASS.

“Many people are predicting unemployment may reach 8 to 10 percent. To prevent that Obama will have to move quickly,” he said. “To prevent the collapse of the economy what will be needed is a new stimulus. … What will be needed is a program of increased government spending, perhaps new construction projects that governments have already deemed worthy, but there was no money. This might be the opportunity to invest in infrastructure we have ignored for decades … that will improve our economic competitiveness in the long run.”

Obama’s election “raises the glass ceiling, but does not eliminate racism,” said Erica Edwards, assistant professor of English.

His skill at organizing a grass-roots campaign is a reaffirmation of the individual as a participant in democracy, a powerful demonstration of the ability of people to get together and decide what they want, she said.

“It’s a fair start for a more participatory democracy,” she said.

Obama’s election represents a new direction in how the United States relates to the rest of the world, a change that is particularly welcomed by Muslim nations, said Muhamad Ali, assistant professor of religious studies.

“The positive response from the Muslim world suggests there is no anti-Americanism,” he said. “They have been critical of American foreign policy. They see Obama’s election as a victory of American values. … They see this as a sign of democracy’s workability.”

Ali cautioned that Obama needs to understand the roots of violence and terrorism. “It is in colonialism and a sense of injustice,” he said. “In the Muslim world there is also some sense of a clash of civilizations.”

Although many pundits have referred to this as an historic election, “it was and it wasn’t,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, associate professor of political science.

Voter turnout – about 62 percent – was higher than in recent decades, but was well below the 80-plus percent of eligible voters who cast ballots in the last half of the 19th century, he said. The youth vote was not greater than in previous elections, “but they were far more likely to vote for Obama,” he said.

Georgia Warnke, distinguished professor of philosophy and associate dean of CHASS, said she has been moved by Obama’s eloquence and the traditional American values of equality, opportunity and hope that are constant themes in his speeches.

“He really believes them,” she said. “That’s what makes him so inspiring. In an age where we have become cynical and have to be ironic, all of a sudden we have a president-elect who can bring up Abraham Lincoln and the ideas of our founding, who can remind us about Kennedy and FDR. He brings us back to the ethical sense of who we are.”


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