Maralee Schwartz: ‘This is a transformational election’

November 4, 2008

Maralee Schwartz, Alex S. Jones, Bill Purcell, Dick Cavanagh, and Thomas Patterson.

Maralee Schwartz, Alex S. Jones, Bill Purcell, Dick Cavanagh, and Thomas Patterson.

November 4, 2008 — Maralee Schwartz, Visiting Edward R. Murrow Lecturer on the Practice of the Press and Public Policy, began her talk at the Shorenstein Center at noon on Tuesday, November 4. The election was just underway, and Barack Obama had not yet become our 44th president. But Schwartz, described by Shorenstein Center director Alex S. Jones as having “one of most shrewd analytical minds,” was already looking beyond the contest.

She opened with what she herself dismissed as a “generality,” but one that she backed up throughout the conversation. “Barack Obama really is the first 21st-century candidate,” Schwartz said after calling this a transformational election.

“He’s run a campaign like I’ve never seen in almost 30 years of covering politics…. I’ve never seen [such] organization, technology, discipline, charisma…. Throw it all in there — and 700 million dollars.” She highlighted two New York Times articles that pinpointed Obama’s strengths, one by Adam Nagourney that summed up the reasons for his success, and another by David Brooks on what the victory signified.

“I believe that presidential campaigns and the vote for president is a very personal vote,” Schwartz continued. “It’s in many ways very different than other votes, and you have to trust and feel comfortable about the person that you are going to vote for…. I think that was Barack Obama’s huge challenge, to reassure people about this word I kept seeing out there, ‘exotic,’ or how ‘untested’ he is…. And he has steadily, steadily done that.”

When asked by Alex S. Jones what kind of a president Barack Obama would be — “A schmoozer like Clinton? An inspirer like Kennedy? A schemer like Nixon?” — Schwartz was succinct: “All of the above.” She felt that his government will reflect him. “His style is very adult. He’s a grownup…. He’ll try to be bipartisan. Symbolically and operationally.”

This article was written by and the photos taken by Leighton Walter Kille of the Shorenstein Center.