3Qs: How Obama won, and the road ahead

Nov 09, 2012 by Matt Collette
Northeastern faculty from three disciplines weigh in on why Barack Obama reclaimed the presidency, and what it means for health-care reform. Credit: Dreamstime

We asked experts from across the uni­ver­sity to assess Pres­i­dent Barack Obama's vic­tory over Repub­lican chal­lenger Mitt Romney in the race for the White House. Here, former pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Michael Dukakis, health law expert Wendy Parmet and public speaking expert Greg Goodale weigh in on the con­clu­sion of the cam­paign and ana­lyze the impact of Pres­i­dent Obama's re-​​election.

How were President Obama and Massachusetts Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren able to win in very tight races?

Gov. Michael Dukakis, Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Polit­ical Sci­ence: Obama and Warren won for one reason: There was a ground game! Why more people don't get this, I don't know. It's about blocking and tack­ling, it's about making sure your precinct cap­tains and vol­un­teers are out there making con­tact with people on a per­sonal basis—and doing this more than once. If you want to win these days, this kind of oper­a­tion is the only way to beat big money. You're not going match guys like Karl Rove, who can spend mil­lions of dol­lars on TV ads, but you can beat them on the ground.

The other thing that influ­enced this year's races is that the country is changing. In 20 years, the whole country is going to look like Cal­i­fornia. Back in 1988, I lost Cal­i­fornia to George Bush by two points, and no one had come that close since Lyndon Johnson. Then Clinton cracked through finally and that state, with its great diver­sity, has gone for Democ­rats ever since. And the rest of the country is starting to look like that too. That doesn't mean the Democ­rats can go to sleep—they need to take advan­tage of that starting right now, if they want to take back the house in 2014.

What did Barack Obama and Mitt Romney accomplish with their election night speeches to the nation?

Greg Goodale, asso­ciate pro­fessor of com­mu­ni­ca­tion studies: There has been a com­plaint from Democ­rats that Obama has lacked pas­sion, which we saw in his con­ven­tion speech, where he was dull, and in that first debate, where he didn't seem engaged. I think a lot of people were wor­ried he had lost that pas­sion, the fire in his belly. But Tuesday night, I think for the first time since maybe even 2007, we saw that man, who was ener­gized while able to reach across the aisle in his speech and work on some major issues.

I think 's speech was gra­cious and bipar­tisan—some­thing we really hadn't seen from him on the cam­paign trail. It was a dimen­sion that was very well-​​received and which would have served him well. If that Romney had been cam­paigning, this could very well have been an entirely dif­ferent election.

How will Obama's re-election influence the fate of the Affordable Care Act and the balance of the Supreme Court?

Wendy Parmet, George J. and Kath­leen Waters Matthews Dis­tin­guished Uni­ver­sity Pro­fessor of Law in the School of Law: This elim­i­nates a lot of the uncer­tainty. We know now that the Afford­able Care Act will go for­ward; it will be imple­mented and that's going to be hard to change. A lot of ques­tions, though, remain on the table, one being the fiscal cliff and what if any­thing that will mean for Medicare and Med­icaid. There are some very big deci­sions for the states, some very cru­cial deci­sions: They have a very short time now to decide if they're going to set up their own insur­ance exchanges; many of them have so far been holding back. The most impor­tant part, though, is the Med­icaid expan­sion, which is cru­cial to cov­ering a large number of the uninsured.

It's likely that the pres­i­dent will have one or two appoint­ments to the Supreme Court over the next four years. Depending on whom he appoints, he may be able to change the dynamics on the court. What is clear, I think, is that the court will not go fur­ther to the right. We have a very con­ser­v­a­tive Supreme Court right now and in most mat­ters there is a five-​​member con­ser­v­a­tive majority—we've seen that in a lot of cases, most notably Cit­i­zens United. This is a far more con­ser­v­a­tive court than we've had in a long time. If Romney had won it could have gone fur­ther to the right, or at least cemented its right-​​leaning principles.

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