Q&A: Obama smart enough to face problems that lie ahead


    Manochehr Dorraj is a professor of political science. Dorraj, who teaches courses in comparative politics and international relations, earned a doctorate in government at the University of Texas at Austin.

    Q: NBC News has just called it for Barack Obama. Have there been any recent presidential elections that have been called this early?

    A: Is there a problem to call it this early? Well, this looks pretty solid in the corner of Obama. It’s not a close race. It would be hasty if you call it early, but some of the states like California and Oregon and Washington that are clearly in Obama’s column are going to give him more than 270 electoral votes that he needs so as the evening goes on, we will know for sure that the projection is confirmed, so I don’t see a problem. If it was a close race, yes, there would have been a problem.

    Q: What do you think some of the factors have been in Obama’s performance tonight?

    A: First and foremost, the country was ready for change. Secondly, what Obama the candidate brought to the table was a bright, intelligent, younger man who comes from a multi-racial background and has a tremendous ability to bring the different people from different races and ethnicities and persuasions together. He seems to be a bridge-builder, a healer in some ways, but also he has tremendous charisma, and that charisma is enhanced by terrific oratory skills and the fact that he also represents a different genre of American leaders and their sensitivity to empathize with the rest of the world. The whole idea and image he promotes of where he wants to take the nation and for that matter, the world, and a message of change that he would repeat in his campaign.

    Q: In past presidential elections, a lot of analysts have been saying that college-age voters and youth voters are apathetic and they haven’t been turning out as much. Do you think this turns the tide?

    A: Yes. He galvanized the youth vote, and it made a big difference in his campaign because he gave them something to hope for, something to identify with. What is happening is, in the 1960s, the politicization of galvanization of the youth was used against the political system. This time around the youth is using the political system that is primarily electoral system to change it from within, so they’re banking their hopes and aspirations for a better future in Obama.

    Q: As it’s projected that Obama will be going into office, what kind of challenges do you think he will face?

    A: Well he faces tremendous challenges. First and foremost, he is residing on an ailing economy. We are clearly in a recession, an economic downturn and a whole mortgage crisis which was buttressed by a housing crisis which was buttressed by a banking and financial crisis. These are tremendous challenges domestically and economically, but also we have challenges globally. The American political capital has diminished around the world. America is now involved in two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and he faces the challenge of returning the economy to productivity and solvency, to providing jobs and opportunities, and mending the banking system and revamping America’s place in the world politically and economically, restoring America’s leadership and political credibility around the world. I would say that because the challenges are enormous, this also has the potential of making him a very tremendous president if he rises to those challenges and proves to be a good steward of the state and can govern effectively not only in this country but also be a statesman globally.

    (Franklin) Roosevelt became “Roosevelt” as he is known by historians as a great president because he came to power during the Great Depression, when economically America was in dire straits and was facing down Nazi Germany and royal Japan and tremendous challenges abroad and at home, and he managed to rise to the occasion and provide remedies to both of those domestic and international challenges. If Obama proves to be the type of political leader who can also rise to those challenges, then his name will go down in the American annals of history as a great president.

    Q: One of the key criticisms from the McCain campaign in this election was that Obama didn’t have enough experience in terms of being a junior senator compared to McCain. Do you think he might have any problems with that?

    A: No, I don’t think so. He has proved to be a very bright and intelligent man, and his choices for the people who he has surrounded himself with shows good judgement so far. His choice for vice president, his choice of advisers, his choice of the brain trust he gets his advice from, the type of campaign that he has run, which has been successful, all of these indicate that here is a man who has a bright mind, quick instincts and terrific political acumen who can rise to the occasion, and if there is someone who can learn on the job, it’s him. He has all the equipment, all the necessary qualities to become a great president, I think. Some of the things will come with experience. They said the same thing about president (John F.) Kennedy, but they did not prevent him from rising to the occasion to become a great president that he was. I don’t see that as a major obstacle, and on the other hand, if there’s someone with a great deal of experience but has the wrong direction for the country, and if the experience they have looks into the past rather than the future, that experience is not an asset, it’s a handicap.