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At Iowa City Library, Leftist Paul Street Presses Obama To Deliver Change

This story was written by Shawn Gude, The Daily Iowan
The mantra of hope was ubiquitous in President-elect Barack Obama's campaign, but will he actually deliver?

Call him cynical, but left-wing writer and activist Paul Street isn't so sure.

Speaking to around 100 people at the Iowa City Public Library on Thursday night, he urged citizens to continue the fight for hope and inspiration.

Obama has promised to withdraw troops from Iraq within 16 months.

"In the absence of progressive pressure, the prognosis is not good," said Street, the author of the recent book Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics.

Audience members - who applauded emphatically - agreed with that assertion.

"We the people need to follow through and keep on his ass about it," said Iowa City resident Christina Mitchell, 25. "I think there's going to be a lot of pressure to conform with some of the stuff he committed to, [but] I think [keeping pressure on presidents is] just an important thing no matter what."

"Obama's presidency will only be as progressive as the mobilized grass-roots social movement underneath it," University ofIowa Antiwar Committee member David Goodner said.

Regardless of if he ultimately delivers on his campaign promises, Obama hasn't rested on his election-day laurels, with reports of Cabinet nominees already leaking out. Former Sen. Tom Daschle, D- South Dakota, has reportedly been offered the health and human services post, and former rival Hillary Rodham Clinton is being strongly considered for secretary of State.

Street couched his support for Obama begrudgingly and pragmatically, while lambasting the President-elect for conservative stances on foreign policy and his perceived "realpolitik" tendencies. Despite those shortcomings, the author was impressed with the campaign, saying Obama "scares the elites" and orchestrated a "quasi-social movement."

His opinion of former presidential hopeful Rodham Clinton was candid - "evil" - and former Republican presidential nominee John McCain - a "vicious bastard."

Despite Street's reservations about Obama, historical precedence for campaign promises is on the latter's side, said one political-science professor.

"There are always some adjustment that takes place, but for the most part, presidents do a pretty conscientious job of acting on the promises they make," said UI political-science Associate Professor Cary Covington, noting that research shows presidents typically act on around 75 percent of their campaign promises. "When presidents don't act on their promises, it's pretty big news."

A recent Associated Press poll showed Americans sanguine about Obama's chances of implementing the policy agenda he promised in his campaign. About two-thirds of respondents said they were "somewhat confident" or "very confident" the president-elect would deliver.

But there have been broken promises in the past, which may lend credence to the image of two-faced politicians.

The most famous example: former President George H.W. Bush's "read my lips" anti-tax pledge during the 1988 presidential election, which he famously broke to trying to reduce the deficit.

But more important than the shift is how the president frames it, Covington said.

"Presidents are first and foremost teachers," he said. "People will cut the president some slack," if the president gives a "reasonable explanation."