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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.”

President of the United States Barack Obama

President Obama’s “administration is going to survive in the history books no matter what happens,” Robert Zelnick says. Photo by Christopher Dilts for Obama for America

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.”

Amy Laskowski

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

14 Comments on Has Obama Earned a Second Term?

  • Kyle on 11.01.2012 at 6:05 am

    No need for debate. He hasn’t earned a second term. Why we need a debate to prove this is laughable.

    • David Keefe on 11.01.2012 at 11:02 am

      Your opinion, Kyle. And there are plenty with opposing opinions = healthy intellectual debate.

      There has not been enough political debate and discussion during this election.

  • Paul Revere on 11.01.2012 at 7:26 am

    No way. The Democrats controlled both houses of congress during the last two years of Bush’s presidency and the first two years of Obama’s tenure as president. Yet the democrats have blamed Bush for the recession and have failed to turn the economy around!! This I am a victim blame game that is the democrat SOP is just more evidence of their incompetence. I cannot believe Americans are gullible enough to trade bread and circuses for their votes again but then history has shown that mankind is inclined to suffer so long as the injustices it is subjected to are tolerable so it could happen. That said, the US cannot tolerate 4 more years of failed democrat/Obama policies no matter how many gifts from the seemingly government trough we are promised in exchange for our votes.

    • Sal on 11.01.2012 at 10:45 am

      The world – not only the US, but the ENTIRE world – cannot afford another Bush. The damages that those 8 years of Bush did to the US and the world could not be fixed in only four years. The Bush administration created the worst economic crisis, since 1929. What Obama did was to save the US from experiencing the same Great Depression it did experience in 1929. HE did so by injecting a lot of government money into the economy, which is what FDR did to help the US emerge from the Great Depression. If the Reps had been in power in the last 4 years, the situation would have been more horrible. Sarah Palin as vice President?!? Are you kidding? Obama is FAR from perfect, but Romney+Ryan will be even worse. Much worse.

    • Neil Andersen on 11.01.2012 at 1:17 pm

      When referring to the Democratic majority during the first two years, it would be disingenuous not to recognize the fact that the majority in the senate was not filibuster proof (no super majority) and the current rules allow any senator to filibuster – without actually holding the floor. They can declare a filibuster and go home…

    • David Keefe on 11.01.2012 at 1:25 pm

      To note: I will not be voting for either Obama or Romney this year.

      4 years of Democratic control of Congress is still less than the 6 years of Republican control supporting the failed GOP/Bush policies, unnecessary war in Iraq, and unnecessarily long war in Afghanistan, that got us into this recession (and they absolutely DID get us into it, never mind the Wall Street swindlers and their toxic financial products that made the whole thing worse).

      You say the country can’t tolerate 4 more years of failed Democrat/Obama policy? 4 years of Romney’s exaggerated form of the failed GOP/Bush policies that got us here would be back-breaking.

      That’s not to say Obama hasn’t failed in some respects. He has. And I believe those failures have prevented the country from being in much better shape than it is.

      When America wakes up and stops voting for two parties that have done nothing but damage the country over the past 12 years, THEN we’ll see some candidates and elected officials that bring about real change.

      • Jimmy Smith on 11.02.2012 at 7:31 am

        Unnecessarily long war in Afghanistan?!?!?! So what would you have done? Gone there for a year and pulled out? We did what we needed to do and we still aren’t done… Open your eyes.

        • Anonymous on 11.05.2012 at 11:38 am

          The Afghan War is a prime example of trying to apply a conventional solution to an unconventional threat. Terrorists are not states. You don’t beat a terrorist group by invading a country. You beat it through targeted police actions and public diplomacy. You discredit their cause while removing them quietly. That’s the only strategy that has yielded any positive results at all.

  • David on 11.01.2012 at 3:50 pm

    That is like asking if Bobby Valentine earned a second season with the Red Sox.

    • Jon P on 11.01.2012 at 11:15 pm

      Sorry, but you just whiffed with that analogy.

      If you a critical look at recent Republican records on social as well as economic policy, you’d probably have to conclude that President Obama has been bringing the team back after a Bobby Valentine-like performance from GW Bush. Except it’s harder, because he had 8 seasons of mismanagement.

      Let’s take a quick look at the president most Republicans hold up as their shining example of brilliance: Ronald Reagan. Under Reagan, the size of Federal government, it’s number of public employees and its deficits mushroomed. For instance, the National debt nearly tripled during 8 years of Reagan. As a percentage of GDP, government spending was higher in 1983 under President Ronald Reagan than it will be this fiscal year according to data by the Tax Policy Center. And with that kind of spending, you’d think the economy and employment would have soared, but the average unemployment rate during his 8 years was 7.4%.

      Now we are looking at a Mitt Romney plan that follows the same flawed thinking that Republicans have been pursuing for 30 years, only he wants to put it on steroids. Trickle down tax cuts skewed to the top, and excessive, (obscene in this case) defense spending have been shown to be a poor strategy for growth, and have deeply harmed the middle class’ ability to thrive and prosper.

      The 5 million plus jobs that have been created since President Obama took office are in the private sector. In fact, we had fewer public jobs added during the last four years than any time in recent history—this is largely due to Congressional obstruction of the Jobs bill that would have saved teacher’s jobs and created infrastructure construction jobs (a much more efficient way to boost the overall economy than either tax cuts or defense spending).

      If state, local, and federal employment followed the same trend from 2008 through today as it did from 2005-2008, the unemployment rate would be 6.1% instead of 7.8%. See, the way this works is that when a Democrat is in office, the highest Republican priority always seems to be shrinking government. Especially now that we’re in a deep recession. But when a Republican is in office, the opposite happens.

      I think what you really meant to say is let’s not vote for Mitt Romney, who’s just another Republican incarnation of Bobby Valentine.

  • Paul Revere on 11.02.2012 at 6:14 am

    Here we go again with democrats claiming to always be a victim of the failed policy of someone else. It’s all the other guys fault, we need more time, its not fair, we need a second chance blah blah blah. I have been listening to this nonsense from the left for years and yet despite all the extra chances and extra time and blame assigning the left never seems to be able to rise to the occasion.

    On the other hand Obama was very quick to take full credit for tracking down Osama Bin Ladin. So if I understand this correctly the administration is saying that it responsible for all its successes and Bush is to blame for all its failures?

    Mitt Romney is among the most centrist republicans. His record in MA demonstrates that he is as likely to disappoint the republicans and he is to please the democrats. This is unfortunate for the far right as they will not be getting what they want out of a Romney administration but it could be very good for the entire country which has only been further divided by the ideological madness perpetrated during the first 2 years of the Obama administration.

    Mitt will modify Obama care and return the mandatory insurance issue back to the states with a government carrot for conformance thereby allowing the red states to not require insurance and vice versa for the blue states per the 10th amendment. There will be no further need to over interpret the commerce clause and the nation with breath a huge collective sigh of relief. I could go on and on but unless someone here can explain to me how the majority forcing the minority to do what it does not want is consistent with the republican form of government guaranteed by the constitution and with the 10 amendment there is nothing really left to debate.

    I agree that Romney will likely augment rather than curtail Obama’s spendings policies during the first year or two because frankly at this stage of the game with stagflation on the horizon increasing the velocity of money which could help to pay off old middle class debt seems more prudent than the contrary. But unlike Obama Romney will also keep taxes low on business to foster confidence, drive reinvestment and spur growth which will create more jobs making the pie bigger. AS anyone who understands economics knows if the US governments needs x amount of new revenue it can get this money by raising taxes or by keeping the tax rate the same and taking a smaller piece of bigger pie. The latter is the most economical sustainable remedy. Why this phenomenon is never lost on the venture capitalists who risk their money to start new businesses but seemingly always lost on the not for profit US government defies logic but I digress.

    • Jon P on 11.02.2012 at 12:23 pm

      Yes Mitt Romney can pretend to be one of the most centrist Republicans. He’s also severely conservative, in his own words. In fact, he’s whatever you want him to be, depending on the occasion.

      But if he gets elected, he’s got a lot of debts to pay off to his tea party backers, so I wouldn’t be too sure about him playing the moderate role. But then, how can you be sure about anything he says? His beliefs seemingly change on a weekly basis.

      When it comes to the budget, the Supreme Court, women’s right to choose, and their medical care, the environment, FEMA, the FDA, the SEC, the EPA, energy policy, and who’ll get the big tax breaks, there’s not much question where his obligations lie.

      President Obama needs to apologize for nothing. He’s been the responsible adult in this whole mess, and he’s gotten our economy as well as our foreign policy back on track. Now we just need a few responsible adults in Congress as well, and things will improve more rapidly. Why at this point would we ever choose to go back to the failed policies that Mitt is recycling?

      • Anonymous on 11.03.2012 at 10:17 am

        The way I look at it, Obama is a known quantity. I hear people complain that Romney is GW Bush 2.0. Give me specific examples. It’s an aura that the Obama campaign has been pushing and people have been soaking up without question.

        • Jon P on 11.04.2012 at 1:10 am

          Here are four specific examples:

          1.Same disproved trickle-down economic plan that claims to create good jobs through tax cuts skewed toward the wealthy—only Romney’s plan is a more extreme version

          2.Largely identical group of neocon foreign policy advisers as Bush, along with the same sabre-rattling rhetoric that alienated the rest of the world

          3.Like Bush, he’s an opportunist who courts religious extremists and radical right ideologues, yet pretends he’s going to be a compassionate conservative

          4.If he wins Presidency, he’ll be entering with a conservative majority in the Supreme Court, with the ability to appoint more ideologues like Scalia. Also would have a majority in Congress, and potentially in the Senate with an anti-women, anti-science agenda.

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