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Has Obama Let Us Down?

Experts, students meet in town hall discussion tonight

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In 2008 young voters hungry for change helped to make Barack Obama the country’s first black president. Three years later, the euphoria of that historic accomplishment has dramatically waned. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that just 48 percent of voters aged 18 to 29 say Obama makes them feel hopeful, a steep slide from the 80 percent in November 2008. Only 49 percent approve of how he is doing his job, down from 73 percent in 2009.

How that happened and what it means will be the focus of tonight’s town-hall meeting Hope and Change? A Conversation on the Obama Presidency, being held at the George Sherman Union Conference Auditorium. Presented by BU Today, the meeting brings together political experts Thomas Fiedler (COM’71), dean of the College of Communication, and Robert Zelnick, a COM professor and former longtime ABC News correspondent, who will be joined by Anthony Priestas (GRS’12), a doctoral student in the College of Arts & Sciences earth sciences department and president of the student Libertarian group Liberty at Boston University, and Tabitha Watson (COM’12, CAS’12), an undergraduate studying journalism and political science. Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore (SED’87) will moderate the discussion.

“For many students, Obama’s candidacy turned them on to politics and the election process for the first time,” says Elmore. “Now that we’re a few years in and he’s running for reelection, it’s time for students to process what his first term has been like, and what the successes and failures have been.”

Priestas can easily list what he considers Obama’s failures, from expanding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to reneging on his promise to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center. And his economic policies have yet to boost the economy or curb unemployment, which for ages 18 to 29 remains at 13 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Students strapped with debt are entering the workforce and realizing there is less opportunity for them,” Priestas says. “Instead of change, they got more of the same.”

Fiedler, a former executive editor of the Miami Herald, adds a broader reason for young people’s disappointment: an all but inevitable disenchantment with partisan politics. For many young voters, casting their ballot for Obama was the first time they engaged with the political system, and they’ve had to learn that an election is far more inspiring than the nitty-gritty of governing, especially with a deeply entrenched opposition.

“I think the disillusionment is more about recognizing that making change is hard,” says Fiedler. “It’s dirty work.”

Zelnick believes that young voters will reengage with the president when they consider the alternative. The aforementioned Pew study found that 53 percent of young voters viewed Republicans unfavorably and 36 percent viewed Democrats unfavorably.

Zelnick says he’s seen this before: in 1968, the radical, and mostly young, left-wing abandoned Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey in the primary only to come flocking back in the general election against Richard Nixon.

For those who can’t be at the event, Hope and Change? A Conversation on the Obama Presidency will be streamed live via UStream. Watch it in the player above.

BU Today presents Hope and Change? A Conversation on the Obama Presidency tonight, Tuesday, November 29, at 7 p.m. at the George Sherman Union Conference Auditorium, 775 Commonwealth Ave. Free, but registration is required; register here.

3 Comments
Amy Sutherland, What Shamu Taught Me About Life Love and Marriage, Boston Globe, Boston University
Amy Sutherland

Amy Sutherland can be reached at alks@bu.edu.

3 Comments on Has Obama Let Us Down?

  • Ken Davis on 11.29.2011 at 6:29 am

    I never expected much from him anyway. He was swept into office on the anti Bush windstorm. I’ts amazing that no matter what the subject matter is ,he is always the least qualified of anyone in the room.He will surpass Millard Filmoor as the worst president in history.

  • Emir K on 11.29.2011 at 10:46 am

    The last two paragraphs of this article represents exactly what is wrong with the bipartisan politics of today. The “you have to vote for us because the other alternative is worse” mentality should not be an election strategy!

  • Suarez on 11.29.2011 at 6:29 pm

    “Students strapped with debt are entering the workforce and realizing there is less opportunity for them…Instead of change, they got more of the same.” Nay, we didn’t get more of the same. We got worse. As the previous comments already point out, the votes for Obama were in actuality votes against Bush and/or against the opposing party. Hopefully the discussion tonight covers more than just the socialist-liberal view of Obama’s failures (the ongoing wars, the continued operation of Gitmo, etc.), and instead focuses on the most critical failure of all: his inability to lead strongly, decisively, and effectively in a country founded on ideals of independence, self-reliance, and freedom.

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