A Little Free Advice

Drew Magazine asked 12 knowledgeable (and blessedly opinionated) faculty members to help Barack Obama steer the nation in the right direction. And, for good measure, we’ve included two New York Times columnists who spoke at Drew in the fall.

Edited by Amy Vames
Photos by Shelley Kusnetz

Get to know China

Catherine Keyser

Associate Professor, Political Science

Keyser lived in China from 2006-2008, initially as a Fulbright Scholar studying child welfare policy. She teaches comparative and Asian politics.

The first thing President Obama should do is learn a little Chinese. The Chinese love it when foreigners speak Chinese. And each time he thinks about China, which should be often, Obama should remind himself, “Everything about China is big”: its population, its geography, its corruption, its pollution, its defense budget, its parliament, its ambitions, its sense of national pride—and our indebtedness to the nation. If the Beijing Olympics weren’t enough to demonstrate that China can master gargantuan projects and public impressions, then its economic reserves of over $2 trillion should help in underscoring China’s economic prowess. Know also that this massive nation has many serious internal problems that drive its ambitions. China is rising, cocky and self-conscious, and the leadership knows that its own survival rests on the ability to keep its 1.3 billion people generally happy, or at least quiet. So never forget that there are millions of people in China who need for us to remain the beacon of freedom and justice.

Lead the way on immigration reform

Maliha Safri

Assistant Professor, Economics

Safri teaches “Immigration and the Nation,” and her research focuses on the economics of immigration.

President Obama cannot afford to forget the nation’s 10 to 12 million undocumented immigrants. In the economic downturn, it will be easy to let the question of legalization slip away as these workers face higher unemployment, lower wages and decreased bargaining power in a declining economy. President Obama must lead an immigration reform that provides a quick path toward legalization and integration. If immigrants are working hard and paying taxes, isn’t it fair to acknowledge them not only as workers, but as citizens?

Look to FDR to save the economy

Marc Tomljanovich

Associate Professor, Economics

Tomljanovich, director of the Wall Street Semester Program, is an expert on macroeconomics, money and banking, financial markets and corporate finance.

President Obama will need to address two immediate crises while juggling some long-term time bombs. First, he will need to contain the financial and banking crisis. Central banks around the world have added massive liquidity to financial markets, but fear and a flight to cash rule the roost. Obama needs to restore faith and trust in the financial system. In 1933, FDR did so by establishing the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Obama will need to create new regulatory agencies that replace the aged patchwork system currently in place that had neither the economic resources nor political will to rein in the excessive lending of the past seven years. The SEC must be given expanded powers, as must the Federal Reserve System, to assess risks that have emerged due to new financial products and the globalization of markets.

Second, Obama will need to restart the economy. FDR used public works projects as his platform. Obama will likely push parallel programs, though he will probably add service components to them as well. Bailouts of corporations probably will be needed, but money should be spent creating jobs in growing industries. Another stimulus package is a great idea in theory, but where will the government get the money? We just spent $700 billion in October. Maybe stopping a war will free up some cash.

Finally, long-term concerns involve Social Security and health care. The retirement of baby boomers over the next 15 years will set up a demographic nightmare as the demand for retirement and health care benefits skyrockets at a time when Americans live longer and the workforce is shrinking. In any case, I don’t think Obama will have much time to walk that new puppy.

Be Who You Are

Maureen Dowd

The New York Times

The Bushes’ attitude towards the world was ‘bite me.’ I don’t think Obama believes in that kind of belligerent, ‘my way or the highway’ kind of foreign policy. Andrew Sullivan wrote a cover piece in The Atlantic [saying that] who Obama is and the way he looks and where he came from will immediately set a different tone in the world, and I think that will be very important.

Fuel the future the right way

Phil Mundo

Professor and Chair, Political Science

Mundo, who teaches American politics and government and public policy, asked his Environmental Policy and Politics students to help him pull together his advice below.

Dependence on foreign oil, increasing greenhouse gas emissions, a creaky electric grid and other problems add up to an enormous challenge for President Obama. But trying to fix these problems using 20th-century methods is guaranteed to fail.

A better approach is to encourage rapid development of plug-in hybrid cars and alternative sources of energy that pollute little or not at all. The Obama administration should expand incentives to the private sector to develop these energy sources. Federal and state government funding of innovations in solar and wind power technology, along with support for other alternative energy sources, such as geothermal energy and some biofuels, is essential until they become economically viable on their own.

Americans will accept the expense for the near-and long-term benefits, but the public will resist policies imposed from the top, preferring to be part of the process. Community involvement in the location of wind farms, for example, will ensure that they are accepted as part of the community’s industrial base and used to stimulate local and regional economies.

Maintain Some Distance From Europe

Alessandra Stanley

The New York Times

“The world already likes Obama because of what he is—a new kind of president, a postracial president—and he’s shown himself to be cautious and concerned about the world. But what he can’t do is become the international president, or Europe’s favorite, in this kind of economy, with people being uncertain of how he’s going to handle this country.”

Put Guantánamo out of business

Jinee Lokaneeta

Assistant Professor, Political Science

Lokaneeta’s research focuses on public law, civil liberties and torture in contemporary liberal democracies.

President Obama must shut down Guantánamo as he vowed he would during the campaign. In addition, he should give the task of trying the detainees to domestic or military courts and ensure that evidence gained as a result of torture is rejected. He should also reject the outsourcing of torture through extraordinary rendition, which allowed the United States to set up secret prisons in Europe and send detainees to countries that use torture and cruel treatment, practices the U.N. forbids. He should offer a clear definition of torture and inhuman treatment, regardless of location and citizenship, that applies to all U.S. agencies. Obama may not be able to undo all the harm caused, but he can ensure respect for the rule of law and for international human rights regardless of race, gender, religion, territory or citizenship. By doing so, he will again foster respect for human freedom and dignity.

Raise U.S. profile as superpower

Carlos Yordán

Assistant Professor, Political Science

A foreign policy scholar, Yordán concentrates on nation building, terrorism and national security policy.

Although the United States is the world’s remaining superpower, its military capabilities and economic strength have declined since mid-2003 as a result of the Iraq war. President Obama’s primary foreign policy objective should be to reverse this trend.

In the first four months of his administration, Obama should remove 30,000 troops from Iraq. Seven thousand of those should be sent to Afghanistan and the rest sent to their home bases, ready to address future threats. The new administration will need to explain that more substantial troop withdrawals will take place once Iraqis compromise on a number of contentious issues.

Meanwhile, if the Kurds decide to unilaterally annex the divided city of Kirkuk and its oil fields, it could ignite a new round of fighting between Kurds and Sunnis, while forcing Iraq’s neighbors to intervene. The Obama administration must appoint a special envoy and ask the United Nations to send one as well to get Iraqis to resolve this conflict.

More over, American allies have to send more combat troops into Afghanistan if NATO is to reverse the Taliban’s recent gains. President Obama should support European governments’ plans to reform global financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and theWorld Bank in exchange for their willingness to send more troops to Afghanistan.

Accomplishing these three objectives will not be easy. But if President Obama were to attain them during the first 18 months, he would likely reverse the recent decline of American power.

Mend, but don’t end, ‘No Child Left Behind’

Patrick McGuinn

Assistant Professor, Political Science

McGuinn, the author of No Child Left Behind and the Transformation of Federal Education Policy (University Press of Kansas, 2006), teaches and researches race, politics and public policy.

President Obama will assume office at a crucial moment in the history of American school reform. Along with the Democratic Congress, he must decide what to do about the pending reauthorization of the controversial No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001.

NCLB supporters believe that the law’s mandated test-based accountability is necessary to promote educational improvement, close racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps and improve international economic competitiveness. Opponents argue that the law is an unfounded and unworkable mandate that stymies the creativity and flexibility of local teachers and school administrators, and reduces education to mere test prep. While standardized tests are never popular—and cannot improve schools on their own—they remain the only way to systematically measure academic progress.

Obama’s Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, remarked in 2000 that “the fundamental lesson of the last seven years is that education investment without accountability can be a real waste of money. But accountability without investment can be a real waste of effort. Neither will work without the other. If we want our students to learn more, we should do both.” During his campaign, Obama embraced the ideas of universal preschool, merit pay for teachers and increased funding for charter schools. While these are all promising reforms, we will be hard pressed to monitor their efficacy absent the yard stick of standardized tests. NCLB has many flaws that need to be fixed but given the longstanding inadequacies and inequities in our public school system, it is crucial that the federal government continue to hold states accountable for making educational progress.

Give future Einsteins a chance

Ryan Hinrichs

Assistant Professor, Chemistry

A physical chemist, Hinrichs studies the reactions between gaseous pollutants, such as greenhouse emissions and smog.

Energy independence and climate change demand immediate attention, but I urge President Obama to approach research and scientific literacy with a much broader vision. A society that embraces science, rather than fears it, will more effectively engage in the democratic process. To achieve this, we need to improve scientific literacy through education. We must invigorate and integrate science into the elementary curriculum to excite scientific inquiry–not scientific anxiety.

Resist calls for protectionism

Nora Ann Colton

Professor, Economics

A 2008 Carnegie Scholar, Colton is a specialist in international economics, business and economics of the Middle East.

President Obama will need to make and keep America competitive in an evolving world market. There is a perception that we are losing out to other countries that don’t play by the rules of the game—namely China. I can assure the new president, however, that we have been here before and that protectionist measures are not the way to go. After World War II, world trade neared gridlock due to tariffs and other barriers. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration bowed to pressure from the big three automakers and pressured Japan to put voluntary export restraints in place. In both cases, the results were counterproductive, leading us to embrace freer trade. Trade restrictions seldom guarantee the life or workforce of an industry.

Stabilize Afghanistan/Pakistan nexus

Douglas W. Simon

Professor Emeritus, Political Science

Simon is an expert on U.S. foreign policy, national security and Vietnam.

President Obama’s most dangerous foreign policy challenge is the Afghanistan/Pakistan nexus. The core of the problem resides in Pakistan’s rough, remote tribal lands with a border stretching 500 miles along the Afghan border. With no effective control by the Pakistani government, the territory is now used as a launching pad for attacks against Afghanistan and inside Pakistan proper in an attempt to destabilize the government in Islamabad. Pakistani intelligence services are infiltrated with Taliban and Al-Qaeda sympathizers. The Pakistani government is unstable, and all of this is occurring in a country possessing nuclear warheads. Next door, in Afghanistan, the Taliban are resurging and the opium fields are flourishing, providing income for the insurgents.

President Obama should tread very carefully in this region. Merely sending in two or three additional brigades to Afghanistan will not solve the problem. An adequate stabilization force could run as high as 150,000 troops.

Serious thought should go into any decision to commit ourselves more deeply in the region. The Afghanistan/Pakistan nexus is the kind of problem that has consumed presidencies in the past.

Be pragmatic and prioritize

Donald Jones

Professor Emeritus, Religious Studies

Jones’ research interests include business ethics, biomedical ethics and the church’s relationship with society.

I’m going to offer a suggestion on how President Obama should approach his agenda for change and reform: Don’t attempt radical change on all fronts, but be pragmatic in prioritizing critical issues based on which are most important and most quickly attainable. As for the rest, he should slowly build public consensus as part of a long-term plan to achieve effective reform. Obama said as much in his acceptance speech when he remarked, “The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep.”

Obama is on record as having read Reinhold Niebuhr, the great American Protestant theologian, who said, “The sorry task of politics is to achieve justice in a sinful world.” Niebuhr had a realistic sense of the human condition and the limitations one encounters when attempting to achieve justice. He also had a realistic sense of human possibilities in transcending limitations. Obama would also do well to remember Bismarck’s wise dictum: “Politics is the art of the possible.”

End oil addiction, lessen emissions

Fred Curtis

Professor, Economics

Curtis, an expert on environmental and economic issues, has spearheaded multiple sustainability initiatives on campus.

We face two major energy issues: climate change and the global peak of oil production within 10 to 15 years, after which annual oil production will decline.

To respond effectively to climate change, we must rapidly stop the growth of greenhouse gas emissions and quickly reduce them to the consensus target of 80 percent below 2000 levels by 2050. This will require cutting consumption of fossil fuels (and forests and livestock) on a global scale.

Such action must be coordinated with energy policies that respond to oil peaking. A Green New Deal and investment in infrastructure are welcome, but we should invest in infrastructure that is consistent with declining, more expensive oil and the need to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Effective mass transit is essential, especially grid connected mass transportation (e.g., electric light rail) as well as private electric vehicles. To consume less coal and oil, greater energy efficiency is necessary but is only effective if it results in reduced fuel consumption, rather than “spending” the greater efficiency in more consumption of travel and heating. Low or no-carbon fuels are also critical.

These policies and investments must be as big as the problems they address and must start now because they will require years to fully implement. Obama should listen to economists more than markets, and scientists more than economists—and least of all to fossil fuel companies and automakers. We cannot wait until after the current economic crisis to solve these problems without risking a much greater crisis.

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