Barack Obama ran a spectacular presidential campaign, but how will he do when it comes to actually implementing public policy?

Students taking Gilbert St. Clair’s Public Policy class at Southwestern this semester will have the chance to examine this topic.

“We’re going to be tracking campaign promises against public policy proposals,” says St. Clair, who is a visiting professor of political science. “I also want to see if we can find examples of deal-making.”

St. Clair predicts that implementing public policy will not be much easier for President Obama, even though he has a Democratic Congress to work with. “There is a greater variation of ideologies and interests within the Democratic party than there is among the Republicans,” he says. “There are still Southern Conservative Democrats who want to reign in spending, which is counter to the progressive Democrats who want to spend money.”

To be effective, St. Clair says Obama will have to prioritize his campaign promises and focus on proposals such as the economic stimulus package that have widespread support.

“The economic stimulus package is likely to be the new president’s number one success story,” St. Clair says.

St. Clair says some policy proposals, such as those relating to public education and financing health care delivery, should probably wait until a second term, because they will take a lot of preparation. Proposals in other areas such as energy policy and financial industry reform are likely to get bogged down due to heavy pressure from lobbyists.

“The international situation may derail all domestic initiatives except the stimulus package,” St. Clair predicts.

Since 1900, St. Clair says only a handful of presidents have actually been successful in achieving policy goals. These include Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.

“Obama will need to be a skillful politician to get anything done, but if he takes the advice of his advisors, he will be reasonably successful,” St. Clair predicts.

Professor St. Clair holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of New Mexico and is co-author of the 1999 book The Image is Everything Presidency: Dilemmas in American Leadership.


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