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Symposium Considers Historic Election

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President James Wright posed a key question at his Nov. 10 symposium entitled, "Reflections on the 2008 Campaign: Challenges for the New President." Wright asked, "Was the election a victory for Barack Obama, or a referendum on George Bush, whose popularity has declined so profoundly?"

Panelists at the post-presidential election symposium (from left): Rob Portman '78, former Ohio congressman and Bush cabinet member who was considered as John McCain's running mate; Leah Daughtry '84, chief of staff of the Democratic National Committee; David Shribman '76, executive editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Dartmouth President James Wright; Annette Gordon-Reed '81, 2008 winner of the National Book Award, professor of law at NYU law school and professor of history at Rutgers University; Jacques Steinberg '88, media reporter at The New York Times; James Kloppenberg '73, the Charles Warren Professor of American History at Harvard and the 2008-2009 Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions at the University of Cambridge in England. Click here to watch a video of the symposium.

Wright asked six alumni panelists-almost all his former students when he taught history at Dartmouth-to place the election into a historical context. Professor of Government Linda Fowler presented opening remarks.  Excerpts:

Leah Daughtry '84: "This election is historic obviously because of the racial barrier that was broken. But, on a different level, it is historic because of the change that it's made in the psyche of the American people, particularly for young people."

Annette Gordon-Reed '81: "I never felt so much a part of something as during the campaign because it was easy to give money. ... I do think it changed the way people saw the election."

James Kloppenberg '73: "Obama recognizes that when people are called upon to sacrifice on behalf of a cause that they believe in, they are willing to do something. His challenge is to identify that cause and then to bring people behind the legislative package that somehow translates into the solutions for problems."

Rob Portman '78: "Sarah Palin energized the Republican base, being the socially conservative voters, in a way that John McCain couldn't. ... The energy she brought is an intangible and almost impossible to measure."

David Shribman '76: "Young people who vote in their first election tend to stick with the party they voted for ... this may tell us something about the future of our politics."

Jacques Steinberg '88: "This election was historic in the sense that it was the first presidential election we had with a full-throated blogosphere."

The symposium was co-sponsored by the Office of the President and the Rockefeller Center.


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Last Updated: 12/17/08