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Maralee Schwartz, a visiting lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School, spoke about the 2008 campaign yesterday, focusing on the personal involvement of the candidates and attachment in the political process to explain what she called the transformative nature of this election.
Schwartz, a reporter for The Washington Post, highlighted the unique strategy employed by President-elect Barack Obama, praising his poise and discipline for helping him avoid traditional political tactics such as personal attacks.
By contrast, she said she thought that John McCain’s attacks on Obama had backfired and had actually cost the Republican candidate support.
When McCain attacked Obama’s experience in an effort to sway public opinion in his direction, “Obama didn’t take the bait,” Schwartz said, casting a negative light on McCain’s campaign.
The two candidates’ approaches to engaging the public were also drastically different, Schwartz said.
While Obama’s platform centered around the mantra of “We can fight together,” she said, McCain message was more, “I will fight for you.” Schwartz said that she thought that Obama’s message made it easier for him to rally voters around his candidacy.
After about 30 minutes of remarks from Schwartz, a former fellow at the Institute of Politics, the floor was opened up to questions from the audience.
In response to a question from Alex S. Jones, the director of the Shorenstein Center, Schwartz said that Obama faces huge obstacles if elected, despite the transformational nature of the election. These obstacles, Schwartz said, may prevent him from being an “achiever” president and may force him into the role of a “preparer” president.
“Whatever he does, it’s a starting point to being some sort of change,” she said.
Schwartz said that she thinks the inspirational tone of Obama’s campaign will carry over into his presidency. But she added that Obama will “have to spend a lot of time explaining to the American people how hard this is going to be.”
Audience members seemed to be engaged and excited throughout the discussion, though some found its timing to be strange.
“Overall, I felt a little superstitious—it was assuming that Obama had already won,” said Eric A. Pooley, a fellow at the Shorenstein Center. “I would have scheduled this for [today].”
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