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History in the Making

History in the MakingTufts political experts react to the election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [11.13.08] With Barack Obama's victory in the presidential race, the discussion now becomes how the nation's 44th president will tackle the serious domestic and international issues that await him. Tufts professors were among those commenting on the historic nature of Obama's election and the challenges ahead.

"This is not just an event for the United States. This is an event for the world," James Jennings, a professor in the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, told New England Cable News. "The expectations are very high, so he's going to have to figure out how to manage those expectations."

While some observers expect Obama's election to instantly improve the United States' standing in the eyes of the world, Jennings predicts more caution.

"It's going to improve, but the proof is in the pudding, as always," he told NECN. "People are going to take a wait and see attitude."

Jeffrey Berry, a professor of political science, says it is too soon to measure the impact of Obama's election to the presidency.

"Every new administration feels for its place in history and greatness," he told the Lowell (Mass.) Sun. "It's a little premature to talk about that."

That place in history will be determined in part by the legislative agenda that Obama tackles. James Glaser, professor of political science and dean of undergraduate education at Tufts, told New England Cable News that whether or not Obama's electoral victory constitutes a mandate to execute that agenda depends on the view from Capitol Hill.

"Presidents are powerful, of course, but the main power of a president is the power to persuade," he said. "If the president can encourage other politicians to believe that their electoral fortunes in the future are tied to his-and I think that President-elect Obama will be able to do that on the basis of the results [of the election]-then the president will be more effective."

Both Jennings and Glaser cite the economy as the top item on the president-elect's to-do list.

"He has to begin by putting out these issues that are hopefully going to change the economy around and get people working and living in their homes. And that's easier said than done," says Jennings, referencing issues such as home foreclosures and health care.

Regardless of the issues he faces, Obama's election is historic as the first time an African-American has been elected president. Glaser, who teaches a class on the politics of race and ethnicity, told NECN that he never expected to see such an event in his lifetime.

"I think it took an extraordinary politician and a very admirable person to be able to do this," said Glaser. "He's been able to pull people together. He's been able to win votes across the racial spectrum and I expect he'll be able to govern that way, as well."

Berry adds that Obama's election is a watermark in American history.

"Obama succeeded in de-racializing the presidential contest, putting race in the background and letting others talk about it," he told the Sun. "Now the genie is out of the lantern. There is going to be a lot of discussion about how far we've come as a country."

In an op-ed column for the Salem (Mass.) News, Michael Goldman, a political science lecturer at Tufts and a political consultant, looked ahead to the 2012 race, which he envisions as a referendum on the social and cultural direction the nation is heading.

"The political reality is that for the country to really move ahead, it must finally resolve the question of which America a clear majority of citizens want to live in," he wrote. "The 2008 election didn't answer that question; 2012's will."

Until then, the telephones and doorbells in the homes of swing state voters will ring less frequently with the campaigns concluded.

"They will be very relieved," Deborah Schildkraut, an associate professor of political science, told the Boston Herald, "They will go back to their normal lives until the next campaign starts up again."

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