Eastern Michigan University
A Conversation with Edward I.Sidlow
by Linda Hass
He’s an author, award-winning educator and Eastern’s all-around political guru. In short, Edward I. Sidlow (BS74) is the go-to guy for insights about the upcoming presidential election. He has authored several books, including “Freshman Orientation: House Style and Home Style” and “Challenging the Incumbent.” He’s also currently working on an upcoming book titled, “Presidential Success and Failure in Domestic Politics and Policy.” Sidlow received the EMU Alumni Association’s Award for Excellence (2009) and was the EMU Honors College Faculty Member of the Year (2009).
Eastern: In the last election, young people and minority groups were strong supporters of President Barack Obama. Should we expect the same this time around? What has changed since 2008 and why?
Sidlow: I expect that President Obama will do well in capturing the vote from both younger and minority group voters. However, I don’t think those groups will turn out in the numbers they did in November 2008. President Obama, by his very nomination, allowed voters to participate in something that was historic. That newness is no longer present, creating what some call an “enthusiasm gap.”
Eastern: What are the major factors going into this election, especially in swing states?
Sidlow: The economy and the unemployment rate will top most lists, especially in Rust Belt states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Given that priority, I’m not sure same-sex marriage or the right to choose an abortion will be major factors. I’m not sure what to expect regarding healthcare. I think the president would be delighted to discuss healthcare and I suspect that the Romney campaign is concerned about direct comparisons between the Obama plan and the healthcare plan put into place in Massachusetts by then-Governor Romney.
Eastern: How much power does the president actually have over jobs and the economy?
Sidlow: The president’s ability to affect the day-to-day lives of Americans is limited. Solving an entrenched problem takes both time and cooperation. The unemployment picture and state of the economy did not occur overnight, and cannot be corrected overnight. Every president experiences frustration with the public’s demand for quick, dramatic action. There is no quick fix.
Eastern: How much has President Obama done in his presidency so far and what, if anything, has limited him?
Sidlow: It was on President Obama’s watch that Osama Bin Laden was captured and killed. The healthcare legislation was a great victory for the Obama White House, helped by the fact that the Supreme Court upheld the legislation. Bailing out the automobile industry was big for the Midwest. The president also was successful in passing the Fair Pay Act, reforming financial aid for college students, securing rights for gays in the military and moving forward on immigration reform for those born in this country to noncitizens. President Obama is limited by a toxic political environment; he came into office in a terribly unproductive and bitter partisan climate.
Eastern: Many political observers say this election is shaping up to be one of the nastiest in decades. Do you agree?
Sidlow: Nastiness is not new to politics. President Lincoln was referred to as a “baboon” by his opposition. But the technological explosion of media that now runs on a 24-hour cycle and allows for anyone with a computer to post material without regard to its veracity has certainly changed the nature of the game. The tone of our politics also has been dramatically affected by the fact that anybody with deep pockets can fund any kind of political advertising, buy television time and have it shown. Anyone who does not expect a great deal of nastiness and vitriol in the November election is naïve.
Eastern: What are President Obama’s and Gov. Romney’s strengths and weaknesses?
Sidlow: President Obama’s strength is his incumbency—it trumps everything else. Under that umbrella, you have an experienced orator and campaigner and a successful, well-funded politician. One weakness was leaving too much of his healthcare program to Congress; he should have been more pro-active in personally shepherding it through the legislative process. Also, the economic stimulus package that he passed did not provide the kind of economic boost that the public was led to expect. Among Romney’s strengths are his successful career in the private sector, his past executive political experience as governor of Massachusetts and the fact that he is a well-funded candidate. His weaknesses include his position flip-flops and the fact that there is little difference between the healthcare plan he signed into law in Massachusetts and President Obama’s—a fact the Obama campaign will no doubt exploit.
Eastern: Will the Tea Party be a factor this year?
Sidlow: The Tea Party hasn’t been that successful in endorsing candidates on the November ballot. Much of the success it enjoyed in the off-year election of 2010 can be explained by the fact that off-year elections tend to bring about low voter participation and attract voters that have high levels of political interest.