Obama at Midterm: A Round Table Discussion

By Hannah Wolkwitz

Participants Included:
Larry Gray (Moderator, Professor at John Cabot University)
Patricia Thomas (The Associated Press)
Guido Lenzi (former Ambassador of Italy)
Enrico Molinaro (Prospettive mediterranee)
Kass Thomas (Democrats Abroad – Rome Branch)

On September 29, 2010, a large audience gathered in the Aula Magna at John Cabot University to listen to a stimulating discussion on President Obama’s impact and the projected impact of the approaching midterm elections in the United States. Giuliano Ferrara, Greg Burke, and Jamie Shea of the intended speakers were unable to attend and were replaced by Patricia Thomas, Enrico Molinaro and Guido Lenzi, who contributed to an interesting discussion.

After President Pavoncello introduced the round table by reiterating the importance of the midterm elections on both American politics and international politics, he welcomed and thanked the Honorable Frank Guarini, John Cabot University Trustee. The discussion began as moderator Larry Gray presented the dynamic political situation in the US that is threatening democratic control of congress. He hinted that the midterm elections might be considered a republican referendum on the first two years of the Obama administration and stated that the Tea Party movement is a “tsunami hitting US politics today”.

The conservative Tea Party movement, campaigning for more constrained government spending and lower taxes, has indeed taken the US by storm and has forced the Democratic Party to flee towards the political center in order to maintain its control over congress in the upcoming midterm election. Larry Gray mentioned the importance of Governor Sarah Palin in politics today stating that she is at “the dynamic center” in a political sphere where voters seem to be no longer concerned with credentials or seniority. He went on to describe that Palin endorsed 36 political candidates in the last year, 13 of who were women. Moderator Larry Gray then presented his questions to the panel.

Patricia Thomas during "Obama at Midterm: a Round Table Discussion"

Patricia Thomas

The first to speak was Patricia Thomas of the Associated Press who believes the Tea Party Movement has galvanized the general republican conservative movement and agreed with Larry Gray’s analysis of Sarah Palin’s current influence in politics. She described the positive effects Palin has had on bringing women to the forefront of American Politics, notably candidate for Governor of California Meg Whitman, but believes Palin is not qualified to be President of the US. Patricia Thomas stated that the Republican party should harness the energy the Tea Party Movement has captured.

Guido Lenzi, former Ambassador of Italy, took to the podium next placing emphasis on how the midterm elections will impact European politics. Guido Lenzi highlighted the fact that state interference seems to be growing in the US and shrinking in Europe, bringing them closer together politically. He also noted that Obama has been committed to multilateral diplomacy and the creation of horizontal alliances as he outlined in the famous Cairo Speech, delivered on June 4, 2009.

The trouble is, Obama has not received a response from the countries he has reached out to perhaps because the domestic “socialization of America” has distracted Obama from foreign policy. In the end, Guido Lenzi stated that the Western world generally needs to “get its act together to reconstruct the international system to what it was after the fall of the Berlin wall” and the European Union and Russia need to significantly respond to Obama’s calls for multilateral diplomacy to create a dynamic triangular relationship.

Enrico Molinaro approached moderator Larry Gray’s questions philosophically and theorized that the struggle between US political parties is not at all a struggle between parties, but within the parties themselves. He focused mainly on the challenges facing Obama in the Middle East by demonstrating that we see two opposite trends regarding collective identity. One trend is that of national identity, formed by boundaries and the creation of objects such as national flags. The opposing trend is a mainstream trend that destroys national identity and state frontier to create a global identity of ideology and religion. Enrico Molinaro hinted that Obama’s foreign policy is strained because of this emerging trend of global identity, specifically the Muslim identity that has formed in the Middle East.

The last to speak was Kass Thomas, head of the Rome Branch of Democrats Abroad. She began an emotional speech by echoing the importance of America’s first amendment right to the Freedom of Speech. Kass Thomas stated that the United States represents democracy for the world and it is important for the United States to “stand up for democracy”, even if it is in the form of “tea parties”.

Reiterating one of Guido Lenzi’s points, she hinted that Obama was looking for team players or, in other words, allies to strengthen multinational diplomacy. Kass Thomas finished by reminding the audience that today’s Tea Party Movement should not be underestimated as a passing “fad” as similar movements have arisen in the past. The movement, in this sense, can only be considered an act of political free speech and may only move both the Democratic and Republican parties closer to an independent, central stance.

After each member of the panel spoke, the first remark came from President Franco Pavoncello who noted that addressing the US economy was necessary to a discussion about American politics. Other members of the Audience noted that Obama is not active enough in foreign policy.

Federico Argentieri responded from the audience reminding everyone that Obama has had to face two terrible domestic obstacles since he was elected president: the worst financial crisis in 79 years and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He noted that these two major domestic emergencies are perhaps the reasons why Obama has been unable to devote his energies to foreign policy. Patricia Thomas responded by saying that “all presidents get kicked in the knees” and doesn’t see an excuse for Obama to be inactive in foreign policy. Ambassador Lenzi then confirmed his belief that a “balance of forces” approach to politics needs to be re-implemented and America cannot lead as it did directly following WWII.