BY MATT HUTCHINS
Professor Charles Ogletree ’78 moderated a panel hosted by the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute entitled “In Order to Form a More Perfect Union” for the purpose of considering the path forward for President-elect Barack Obama ’91 as he forms his administration. The panel featured former Massachusetts Governor William Weld ’70, noted journalist Douglas Blackmon, political activist Maria Teresa Petersen, and Harvard professors Orlando Patterson, David Gergen ’67, Alan Dershowitz, and Lani Guinier.
Weld, a moderate Republican, expressed support for Obama near the end of the presidential campaign. He believes that if the Republican party continues to follow an exclusionary ideology which rejects homosexuals and strongly opposes abortion then the Democratic party will continue to gain national favor. He noted there were three factors which made him believe Governor Sarah Palin would remain an influential figure in the Republican party: she won in Alaska by taking on the good old boys, she convincingly defeated the incumbent Governor of Alaska, and she hunts caribou. He also believes we will see a return of Governor Mike Huckabee and Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney ’75 in the national political spotlight.
Gergen, a professor at the Kennedy School, senior political analyst at CNN, editor-at-large for U.S. News and World Report, and noted advisor to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, described the Obama campaign as the “most successful political campaign ever,” and sees Obama surrounding himself with qualified professionals. Gergen expressed hope that Obama will place a few Republicans in top positions, and believes that former Harvard University President Lawrence Summers is the most qualified choice to head the Treasury. Gergen stated that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton would make a great Secretary of State, and predicted Eric Holder as an excellent choice to be Attorney General.
Douglas Blackmon, the Atlanta Bureau Chief of the Wall Street Journal, believes that Obama is both a product and a procreator of our times. He sees Obama’s non-racial ability to project reliability and promise a restoration of government as a refreshing change to a national political scene which has so frequently been a circus. He believes that there remains a schism between Obama and the nation’s black leadership which will be further tested by the President-elect’s plans to advance an urban agenda which does not target specific minorities.
Maria Teresa Petersen spoke on the significance of the Latino vote in the election and future of President-elect Obama. The strong support Obama was able to mobilize among Latino’s defied predictions, and Petersen attributed this to his innovative grassroots mobilization strategies and his consistent ability to address the issues that confront Latino voters. She expressed hope that Obama will help the American community as a whole eliminate poverty and overcome racial barriers and bias, but she believes it would be a mistake to believe we have entered a post-race era.
John Cowles Professor of Sociology Orlando Patterson agreed that Obama’s ascendancy will make the continued exclusion of blacks in this country all the more shocking. He expressed concern that the ghettoization of blacks has only worsened since the 1970’s and that assimilation has not happened in the same way it did with other minorities and immigrant groups.
Professors Guinier and Dershowitz also expressed optimism about the Obama presidency. Guinier warned that Democrats should look past their high hopes and hold their new President accountable. Dershowitz expressed concern that the Obama victory could be misunderstood as the triumph of a black candidate, whereas Obama was the most qualified candidate and possibly the most faultless man to assume the high office in the history of the nation. “I sometimes believe that he really is a robot and someone manufactured him just for this purpose.”