Has Obama Earned a Second Term?
Question topic of tonight’s Great Debate
“That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood.”
Barack Obama spoke those words in his January 2009 inaugural address. Before an estimated crowd of 2 million and a television audience of nearly 38 million Americans, the new president acknowledged the issues then facing the country: a recession that forced unemployment to grow to 7.6 percent and cast an estimated 11.6 million people out of work, a federal deficit of nearly $1 trillion, and a global war on terrorism that had nearly 200,000 American men and women fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious, and they are many,” Obama said on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. “They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: they will be met.”
Whether or not those challenges have been met has become central to this year’s presidential contest between Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Tonight, the College of Communication hosts its 30th Great Debate, and students will join well-known political experts to consider the question: Has President Obama Earned a Second Term? Each Great Debate poses a question concerning an issue of national or international significance to a panel of experts and students. Tonight, Aaron Heller (CAS’14) will be part of a team arguing that Obama has earned the right to another four-year term, while Michael Neminski (CAS’15) will be among those arguing that he has failed to deliver as promised and doesn’t deserve another term.
The final NPR poll of the election season—published Tuesday—found that the race remains too close to call. While Romney appears to have a slight edge nationwide, Obama has a small advantage in key battleground states.
Robert Zelnick, a COM journalism professor, former longtime ABC News reporter, and moderator of the event, says he chose tonight’s topic both for its timeliness and because of the symbolic significance of Obama’s first term.
“He is unique in that there are people my age who thought they would never live to see an African American president; in that sense it is a great tribute to democracy,” notes Zelnick. “On the other hand, he is a man whose success is yet to be fully judged. He has ambitious programs, which have barely been adopted, the only significant exception being Obamacare. This administration is going to survive in the history books no matter what happens.”
Heller and Neminski say they’ll offer starkly different arguments about which candidate deserves to lead the country for the next four years.
“It’s my opinion that no one elected in 2008, no matter who it was, could have had the exact solution to the country’s problems and fixed them in a week,” says Heller, who is interested in studying public relations. “For people who say that Obama hasn’t done anything right, I say, look at his story. He not only halted the recession, but he kept the country from falling into disarray. It says something about his ability to lead, his character, his decision making.”
Neminski will argue that Obama’s time is up. “He promised many things on his inauguration day, but the country isn’t doing better,” says the political science major and member of the BU College Republicans (and a volunteer for Scott Brown’s Senate campaign). “He’s done a few good things here and there, such as finding Osama bin Laden, but I think the plans had been in place for a while. With him, I don’t see the country going forward, only taking a step back.”
The two students will be joined on stage tonight by a number of leading policy experts and political analysts. Mary Anne Marsh, a political consultant with the Boston public affairs firm Dewey Square Group and a Fox News Channel Democratic analyst, and William Keylor, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of international relations and of history, will argue with Heller that Obama has earned a second term. Sharing Neminski’s position will be Bing West, President Ronald Reagan’s assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs and a former Marine, and Mike Franc, vice president of government studies at the Heritage Foundation, in Washington D.C.
The Great Debate is modeled after the famous Cambridge and Oxford University Union Societies’ public discussions, a fierce debating competition between the two venerable English universities. At the end of tonight’s two-hour event, Zelnick will ask audience members to vote for the side they believe has made the most persuasive argument by moving to one side or the other of the Tsai Performance Center.
Zelnick says that the students selected for this year’s debate are “right up there” with the best student debaters he has seen in the years he has moderated. “I’ve often remarked during the debates that we can count on the students holding up their end of the program, reflecting great credit on themselves and the University, so it was a pleasure listening to the tryouts this year.”
The Great Debate: Has President Obama Earned a Second Term? will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. tonight, Thursday, November 1, at the Tsai Performance Center, 685 Commonwealth Ave. The event is free and open to the public.
Find election year analysis and commentary by BU professors in the video series “Campaign 2012.”