House Majority Leader and St. Mary’s Trustee Steny Hoyer made a surprise appearance at a recent St. Mary’s event where alumni, students, and professors from the Political Science department joined to discuss the presidential election.
“Steny Hoyer’s appearance was definitely special,” said junior Matt Schafle. “It’s not everyday that you get to talk with the House Majority Leader.”
Hoyer’s speech discussed the hope and change embodied by Obama’s election and urged young people to become involved in politics. “What an extraordinary time to be a young person in America,” said Hoyer.
“Barack Obama is unlike any politician I’ve ever seen,” he said, calling his election “affirmation in the greatness of our country.”
Outlining the path of the Democratic Party back to power, and the work ahead for the President-elect, Hoyer stated “the good news is we won, the bad news is – we won.” Hoyer discussed the difficulties facing the Democrats in pursuing goals such as national health care, restoring rights, improving education, and rebuilding international opinion of the US while maintaining a majority, but said he believes that “we are investing in our society.”
Although invited by the Alumni Office, Hoyer was unable to confirm his attendance at the event. “We did not hear from him that he was attending,” said Director of Alumni Relations and Planned Giving (and alumnus) David Sushinsky. “My guess is he couldn’t announce it before because of security reasons, but I don’t know that to be a fact. It was a great surprise.”
Professors Michael Cain, Todd Eberly, and Sahar Shafqat discussed the election, perceptions of the election abroad, and of the new administration and political realignment’s possibilities.
“The election touched all of us,” said Cain, the Chair of the Political Science department. “It went on a long time, but on election night a lot of feeling poured out across the nation.”
Eberly focused on putting the election in perspective; while “polls suggested an Obama victory, many were not confident enough to predict the outcome.” Eberly suggested that the reason for hesitation was related to history; “of 10,000 members of the House of Representatives, only 115 have been African-American. Out of thousands of senators, there have only been five and there are currently zero.”
Eberly emphasized Obama’s slim margins in seven swing-states that totaled nearly one hundred electoral votes, which were won by less than a million votes across the seven states.
Shafqat discussed the “massive joy”, and “the tremendous sense of catharsis” the election stimulated worldwide.
“The overseas reaction should not be underestimated,” she said. “The world is predisposed positively toward this 180 degree reversal from under Bush.” However, she stressed that President Obama would face many foreign policy challenges, such as Pakistan. “Over the last eight years the US has squandered a lot of goodwill and soft power.”
Professors Shafqat and Cain also highlighted the current economic crisis and many situations seen as mishandled by Republicans that aided the Democrat victory and substantial gains in the House and Senate.
“The Sarah Palin pick, Hurricane Katrina, and [the continued occupation in] Iraq have turned public perception from unpopular to simply incompetent,” said Shafqat.
However, all three professors were reluctant to call the election a true realignment. “We won’t know if this was a realignment for several more election cycles,” said Eberly. Additionally, after gaining 10 Senate seats and 40 House seats in the last two election cycles, “it’s extremely likely the Democrats will lose some House seats in two years,” said Cain.
“I think the election of 2012 has already begun,” said Shafqat.
“Obama must be a consensus president,” added Eberly. “Obama’s victory shows how far we’ve come as a nation, but it also shows how far we still need to go.”
Five students and about 130 Alumni attended the discussion at the RFD Building on November 20. “Most of the attendees were recent graduates, namely within the past one to three years,” said College Republicans President Sara Metz.
“I think that the happy hour alumni event was more successful than your typical reunion,” said Schafle. “I feel that the attendance rate is better at something like a happy hour because people know what they are getting into when they decide to come, they’re looking forward to a good time.”