Though the three panelists at Princeton's Law and Public Affairs discussion on Friday about the 2008 election were involved in President-elect Barack Obamas campaign, there was little self-congratulation during the discussion.
On the panel, called Presidential Elections and the Law of Democracy and held in Robertson Bowl 16, were Seton Hall Law School professor Mark Alexander, who was a senior adviser to Obama, and New York University School of Law professors Samuel Issacharoff and Richard Pildes, a Princeton alumnus, who co-authored the acclaimed casebook The Law of Democracy.
The panelists discussed their roles in the election as well as problems with the election process. We have a real malfunctioning system, Issacharoff said. Not for the reasons of partisan misuse, but rather because its underfunded and never likely to be well funded, he explained.
At Obama campaign headquarters, Issacharoff handled issues related to the voting process. The problems he worked to alleviate ranged from day-long lines at the Norfolk, Va., voting machines where only one employee showed up to a dearth of provisional ballots at a town in Washington that led to voters being given ballots in Chinese.
Issacharoff said that he and his colleagues were updated on situations around the country by constant news feeds.
We would sit in a room on a cement floor with laptops on card tables, reporting everything that was going on nationwide, he said.
Pildes discussed more fundamental issues related to the power and effectiveness of the president in American democracy. The challenge I think will come is, as the electoral victory is translated into governance, will [Obama] be able to impose his vision and philosophy on governance? he said.
He noted that a presidential candidate never has as much control over the implementation of his vision into law as he does over the workings of his campaign. Pildes added that the domination of Congress by one party, as it is now by the Democrats, usually does more bad than good for a president.
Good decision-making is usually enhanced by creative tension, he said. I think its unrealistic to think that a Democratic Congress will be that much more aggressive under an Obama government than a Republican Congress under a Bush government.
Things might be different with Obama, Pildes said. He likes people to challenge his ideas, he explained.
Alexander, who was involved with the Obama campaigns policy direction, recounted how the campaign organized its way to success. I knew that, organizing a presidential campaign, you can always get a bunch of egg-headed professors that want to participate, that want to talk, he said. But how to include them?
The success of Obamas campaign, as Alexander described it, may be attributed to its inclusivity.
We tried to find ways to respect people, empower them and include them in what was going on, he said. And whats amazing is that people at first were kind of skeptical ... and then people started responding because they were being treated with respect by their political process.
Alexander said that peoples engagement in their government must be a focus of the future administration. Ultimately, our challenge going forward is taking you and asking you to not stop [participating], he said.
He pointed out that students could get involved in politics by asking important questions. He recalled a student who, long before the election, asked him whether the nation was ready for a black president. This question, Alexander said, spurred him to participate in the Obama campaign.
As students, ask the questions. Push your professors. Its your job to engage n new ideas, he said.