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Gregory speaks on a new America
David Gregory, the moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” began his “Watching History Unfold: The 2008 Election” lecture last Wednesday talking about transitions. Around the same time the United States was changing leadership, Gregory assumed his new role as moderator of the Sunday morning talk show following the death of his predecessor Tim Russert.
“The reaction I get these days is, ‘It must be incredibly challenging to succeed Tim Russert – what big shoes to fill,'” Gregory said before a crowd of nearly 400 people in Burt Kahn Court. “And I’m the first one to say, ‘Huge shoes.’ It’s a tremendous challenge for me.”
The former White House correspondent for NBC during George W. Bush’s administration was on the air during the network’s coverage of the 2008 election.
Gregory analyzed how Barack Obama actually won the election. He later talked about Obama’s early administration and the role of media in covering the administration.
“What an election,” Gregory said. “We’re still sort of hungover from the election. It was so great to cover and it went on for so long. It was the only seven-year election I’ve ever covered.”
First he cited three major factors that led to Obama’s election: the economy, President Bush and the Obama organization.
“Obama inspired confidence during a crisis,” Gregory said. “He was able to erase doubts about a man who four years before that had been a state senator in Illinois.
“What we saw throughout the campaign was that candidate Obama successfully linked Bush to (Sen. John) McCain.”
Gregory noted Obama’s campaign’s use of the Internet to raise money and to encourage voters to use social networking Web sites to organize themselves. Voters under 30 made up 25 percent of Obama’s support compared to 13 percent for McCain, according to Gregory.
“It was that organic growth, combined with tremendous engagement on the part of young people, that really fueled the candidacy,” Gregory said.
Obama’s historic victory last November was aided by the fact that he did not raise up the issue of race during the campaign, Gregory said. He said he avoided the traps that previous candidates had fallen into, citing Jesse Jackson as an example.
“They were defined as an African-American candidate only, instead of a candidate for the Democratic Party who just happens to be black,” Gregory said. “The President was successful in that.”
Gregory said that Obama entered the White House with a “head of steam” despite the economic turmoil and the direction the country was headed in as a whole.
“There is tremendous confidence in this president – in his leadership, in his ability to tackle those problems,” Gregory said.
He then discussed what Obama has done since taking office, noting that he has essentially passed on all foreign issues to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Obama has no time to deal directly with foreign nations due to problems involving the economy, Gregory said.
“There are so many layers to the economic problem that simple stimulus can’t solve,” he said. “It’s not enough for the government to spend money. It’s not enough for job creation.”
Gregory acknowledged that one of Obama’s biggest challenges he will face is also his greatest strength: communication. Obama recently held a primetime news conference and was on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” According to Gregory, Obama puts himself out there to try to explain to the country what the problems are, unlike most presidents.
“Where I think he has fallen short and where his treasury secretary has fallen short is that this economy and this recession is unlike what we have seen in the past,” Gregory said. “People simply don’t understand what’s gone wrong.
“Most Americans don’t understand what the secondary market is, where 40 percent of lending takes place.”
He said that Obama has fallen short in educating people about what really is going on. As a result, he now has to deal with angry Americans who feel the government can’t protect them.
Gregory said Obama is moving the government toward greater intervention in the lives of Americans to revive the economy and keep it thriving post-recession.
“We in the media have to dig in on these topics so that we understand them so that we can talk about them in a way that I hope is accessible on the program and then turn around and challenge our leaders,” Gregory said.