A new road to the White House, but what kind of administration?

December 10, 2008

Adam Nagourney and Alex S. Jones.

Adam Nagourney and Alex S. Jones.

December 10, 2008 — Barack Obama’s presidential campaign was no doubt transformational, but will his presidency be just as transforming? Adam Nagourney, national political reporter at the New York Times, addressed this question at the Shorenstein Center’s brown-bag lunch, which was co-sponsored by the Institute of Politics.

Nagourney began his talk by outlining just what made the Obama campaign so innovative. Instead of seeing states only as red or blue, they look at the map in a new way — and as often as not, came out on top. “It’s not clear at all what states are the battlegrounds,” Nagourney said. Future campaigns will no longer be able to ignore states such as Indiana and North Carolina, and he speculated that even Texas might be in play the next time around.

Obama’s decision to opt out of public financing was controversial at the time, but “worth the risk,” Nagourney said. The enormous resources that this gave Obama allowed him to go beyond the standard techniques of getting out a campaign’s message — free coverage in the mainstream media and paid ads — into cable television and even video games to reach voters.

Nagourney said he could only speculate about Obama’s potential as a transformational president, but that he was encouraged by the imaginative techniques used since the election. These have included regular radio addresses on YouTube, the Change.gov website, and efforts to leverage the vast list of email addresses to rally support on both sides of the political fence. Obama’s administration, like the campaign that won him the election, will make use of new resources in a creative way to “mobilize public opinion,” Nagourney said.

When asked about the precarious state of the newspaper industry, Nagourney asserted that there will always be a need for news that is “analyzed, deeply reported, deeply edited,” and fact-checked, no matter how many new resources are available online.

When asked by Tom Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at the Shorenstein Center, what programmatic reforms Obama is likely to champion, Nagourney said that Obama is a “pragmatic guy — he wants to get stuff done.”

Nagourney observed that “a lot of people, regardless of party, want Obama to succeed,” and this goodwill could go a long way to helping him build a truly transformative presidency.

This article was written by Janell Sims and the photo taken by Leighton Walter Kille, both of the Shorenstein Center.