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The Obama Presidency: Assessing Year One at Hall of Flags. John DiIulio discusses Obama's policymaking. Credit: Thomas Jansen

One year and one week after his election, President Barack Obama remains a hot topic.

Wednesday afternoon, political scientists voiced their thoughts on the President’s leadership over the past 372 days — his strengths, his weaknesses and the issues he has yet to address.

The panel, which consisted of renowned faculty from Penn’s political science department, took place in Houston Hall’s Hall of Flags. It addressed topics such as the president’s relationship with Congress, the impact he has made on racial barriers and the effects of his policies, both at home and abroad.

Panelists pointed out that although Obama deserves recognition for his achievements so far, there are issues he still needs to address.

Assistant Professor of Political Science Alex Weisiger said, to much laughter from the crowd, that the President was “coasting on the goodwill effect that he is not George Bush.” Obama, he said, has to do more to show that he is fulfilling his promises — for instance, ending the Iraq war and closing down Guantanamo Bay.

He also suggested that the administration pay more attention to U.S. allies, not just the country’s enemies, because “friends like Israel may exacerbate U.S. ties” with the rest of the Middle East.

Political Science professor John Dilulio criticized the handling of the healthcare reform bill. He called Obama’s method of tackling the issue a “tactical mistake.”

The term “public option,” Dilulio said, “has to be the worst phrase used in the history of presidential communications.”

Despite these failings, the panelists acknowledged the difficulty surrounding the circumstances of Obama’s leadership.

“We have to distinguish between the deal of the cards and the play of the hand,” said DiIulio, “and Obama has been dealt some pretty horrific cards.”

He explained that Obama came into office from a difficult primary and a tough general election, only to face a “world-class financial implosion.”

Daniel Gillion, assistant professor of political science, also praised the progress Obama has made for ethnic minorities. He cited Obama’s appointment of nine minority individuals to the Cabinet — doubling the highest number in previous administrations — and his implementation of policies like pumping $20 billion into food stamps and strengthening anti-discriminatory laws with the Fair Pay Act.

DiIulio also remarked that the public should “cut Obama some slack” since it has only been 10 months since his inauguration. He said Obama has “done remarkably well” and “will continue to do well for the next seven years.”

Students in attendance said they found the discussion useful and informative.

College freshman Daryl Poon said the panel helped reinforce the idea that “politics isn’t a mathematical problem, but a game of poker where you play your best hand with the cards you’re dealt.”

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