News  McGill professors respond to Obama victory

Harold Waller

Political science professor with research interests in U.S. budgeting process and American politics

The McGill Daily: Do you think America has swung to the left?

Harold Waller: I think yes…[but] the very fact that people are asking this question is troubling because it means [Obama] didn’t really make his positions clear during the campaign.

MD: How do you think the U.S. electorate has changed since 2000 and 2004?

HW: I don’t think the electorate has changed very much…. I think what we saw yesterday is that people are tired of George Bush…. Starting in 1968, the Republicans have won most of the elections…so this is a relatively rare Democratic victory.

MD: Do you think there is a new coalition of voters and politicians behind Obama?

HW: It’s not clear…. Obama is an unusual, maybe once-in-a-lifetime candidate…. The question is whether this represents a new coalition for the Democrats or a new coalition for Obama.

MD: Do you think Obama will be able to follow his promises of unifying Washington?

HW: Obama will probably look for some bipartisan support for key measures in his programs, even though he does have a working majority in both houses of Congress.

MD: What can Obama do during his first year with a suffering economy and a huge budget deficit?

HW: I think that both candidates were remiss [about this]…. If you remember the third debate, they kept going on and on about the same policies…as if nothing had happened.

MD: Do you think Obama is willing and able to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq?

HW: Even though he clearly would not have gone into Iraq, that isn’t the choice he is going to make in January 2009. The choice is: given the situation in Iraq on January 20, what does President Obama do?

Marcos Ancelovici

Sociology professor with reseach interests in globalisation, contentious politics, and social movements in the U.S.

MD: Why do you think there is so much international support for Barack Obama?

Marcos Ancelovici: My guess is that it is because he seems favourable to multi-lateral processes and institutions – The UN, the WTO, NATO – but playing on a more equal level with other countries in the world as opposed to Bush who acted with more unilateral policy, like the war in Iraq.

MD: Do you think a lot of this had to do with anti-Bush sentiments?

MA: To a great extent I would say yes, and they are probably going to be disappointed because I don’t think that Obama will have different foreign policy.

MD: What symbolic role can an Obama presidency play on the world stage?

MA: Probably the most obvious one is having an African-American president. First of all, it kind of renews this belief that America is the land of opportunity. His father is from Kenya; he was born in the U.S., but he’s a second generation immigrant that managed to become President.

MD: Where does Obama stand on the globalization debate?

MA: Now that Democrats have a majority in Congress, they’re going to be pressured to implement certain protectionist policies – all the more during a recession. The issue is really what kind of compromises he will be able to negotiate, and also whether he will be able to sell the idea that the best way for American workers to be better off is not by closing down borders or stopping immigration or stopping free trade, but by investing in education, investing in training for workers, and having a public health system.

MD: Does Obama have a dramatically different view on globalization and trade issues than Bush?

MA: My guess is that he has a different perspective. He is not questioning the role of the state in the economy. For Republicans, “state intervention” is still a bad word; it’s like “spreading the wealth.” Obama doesn’t have this problem; he is open to the role of the state in the economy. He is not willing to rely only on the state, but he is open.

Derek Nystrom

Cultural studies professor with research interests in U.S. and post-studio-era American film

MD: There have been a lot of criticisms of Obama having style over substance. What is the importance of style?

Derek Nystrom: I think you can’t underestimate the importance of affective connection that people feel with candidates. A lot of the excitement about Barack Obama is precisely a response to that kind of affective appeal. The intensity of excitement and the sort of interest that his campaign generated comes a large part from his style – his ability to connect with people through things like charisma and personality.

MD: How do you think voters were able to get over divisive race and “Culture War” issues?

DN: In this case, it was things like the economic crisis that caused a lot of people to think cultural issues aren’t as important. I was reading one blog mentioning that someone had put up a sign that said, “Rednecks for Obama,” and underneath it they wrote, “We’ve had enough, too.” It’s this idea that there are white people that are saying, “I normally don’t trust black people, but in this moment I don’t care.”

MD: What role did New Media have in Obama’s campaign? Did it change the dynamic?

DN: One of the ways that people got to feel such a connection to Barack Obama was that we got emails from him every three days, and we knew it wasn’t really him, but it also made you feel like you were part of the campaign.

MD: Do you think Obama’s victory has created a “Post-Racial” political landscape?

DN: It’s certainly not going to make racism in America go away, but I think there is something to be said for a white kid growing up in the United States right now and you see that a black man is President. It means that you will be thinking about black people differently than when I was growing up. The idea that this person is going to be running the country is going to have a quite profound – almost subterranean – effect on the way that the next generations of white people imagine black citizens, but it’s a long, slow process.

– all interviews compiled by Sam Neylon, images by Shu Jiang