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Eric Alterman and Melissa Harris-Lacewell on Obama's First Year
Thomas Frank, photo by Robin Holland
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January 22, 2010

Progressives rejoiced when Barack Obama won the presidency. With a clear Democratic majority in Congress, progressives anticipated changes in national policy on everything from health care to national defense.

But as his first State of The Union Address approaches, the signature issue of Obama's first year, health care reform, appears to be endangered by the surprise victory of Republican Scott Brown in the Massachussetts' special election to replace Senator Ted Kennedy. Brown's win leaves Democrats with 59 senators, which, under current Senate rules, means that Republicans can successfully block legislation using the filibuster — a procedural tactic that requires a 60 vote supermajority to overcome. Pundits have labeled the election a major set-back to the Democrats' agenda, perhaps leaving them without enough votes to tackle any of their major policy goals.

Two of Obama's progressive supporters, Princeton professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell and social critic Eric Alterman, join Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL to assess the president's first year and weigh in on Brown's victory, health care reform, and the state of the progressive agenda.

How do you think President Obama has done in his first year in office? Tell us on the Blog.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell

Melissa Harris-Lacewell is associate professor of politics and African American studies at Princeton University. She received her B.A. in English from Wake Forest University, her Ph.D. in political science from Duke University and an honorary doctorate from Meadville Lombard Theological School. She has recently enrolled as a student at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell, photo by Robin Holland She is the author of BARBERSHOPS, BIBLES, AND BET: EVERYDAY TALK AND BLACK POLITICAL THOUGHT. This text demonstrates how African Americans develop political ideas through ordinary conversations in places like barbershops, churches, and popular culture. The work was awarded the 2005 W.E.B. DuBois book award from the National Conference of Black Political Scientists. It is also the winner of the 2005 Best Book Award from the Race and Ethnic Politics Section of the American Political Science Association. Her academic research has been published in scholarly journals and edited volumes and her interests include the study of African American political thought, black religious ideas and practice, and social and clinical psychology. She is at work on a new book: FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO'VE CONSIDERED POLITICS WHEN BEING STRONG WASN'T ENOUGH. It is an examination of the connections between shame, sadness, and strength in African American women's politics.

Professor Harris-Lacewell's writings have been published in the CHICAGO TRIBUNE, LOS ANGELES TIMES, CRAIN'S CHICAGO BUSINESS and NEW YORK NEWSDAY. She has provided expert commentary on U.S. elections, racial issues, religious questions and gender issues for NBC, Fox, Chicago Public Television, Showtime, Black Enterprise, National Public Radio and many other radio and print sources around the country.

Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman is distinguished professor of English and journalism, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and professor of fournalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. He is also "The Liberal Media" columnist for THE NATION, a fellow of the Nation Institute, and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC, where he writes and edits the "Think Again" column. Alterman contributes a blog and regular articles to the DAILYBEAST.COM, writes a column on Jewish-related issues for MOMENT magazine, and is a senior fellow (since 1985) at the World Policy Institute in New York.

Eric Alterman, photo by Robin Holland Alterman is the author of seven books, including most recently, WHY WE'RE LIBERALS: A HANDBOOK FOR RESTORING AMERICA'S MOST IMPORTANT IDEALS (2008, 2009), and the national best-sellers WHAT LIBERAL MEDIA? THE TRUTH ABOUT BIAS AND THE NEWS (2003, 2004), and THE BOOK ON BUSH: HOW GEORGE W. (MIS)LEADS AMERICA (2004). The others include: WHEN PRESIDENTS LIE: A HISTORY OF OFFICIAL DECEPTION AND ITS CONSEQUENCES, (2004, 2005), and WHO SPEAKS FOR AMERICA? WHY DEMOCRACY MATTERS IN FOREIGN POLICY, (1998). His SOUND & FURY: THE MAKING OF THE PUNDITOCRACY (1992,1993, 2000), won the 1992 George Orwell Award and his IT AIN'T NO SIN TO BE GLAD YOU'RE ALIVE: THE PROMISE OF BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN (1999, 2001), won the 1999 Stephen Crane Literary Award.

In recent years, he has also been a columnist for: WORTH, ROLLING STONE, MOTHER JONES, and THE SUNDAY EXPRESS (London), MSNBC-TV and MSNBC.com, and a history consultant to HBO Films.

A former adjunct professor of journalism at NYU and Columbia, Alterman received his B.A. in history and government from Cornell, his M.A. in international relations from Yale, and his Ph.D. in US history from Stanford.

Bill Moyers was president of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy when it funded Public Agenda and Eric Alterman.

Guest photos by Robin Holland.
Related Media:
Melissa Harris-Lacewell, photo by Robin Holland Melissa Harris-Lacewell and Patricia Williams
Bill Moyers sits down with Columbia law professor and NATION columnist Patricia Williams and Princeton politics and African American studies professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell about the significance of President Obama's election and what it means for the future. (January 23, 2000)

Melissa Harris-Lacewell, photo by Robin Holland Melissa Harris Lacewell
Melissa Harris-Lacewell confronts head-on the issue of constructively discussing race in America and the place for this conversation in US politics. (May 18, 2007)

Thomas Frank, photo by Robin Holland Thomas Frank
WALL STREET JOURNAL columnist and author of THE WRECKING CREW: HOW conservatives RUINED GOVERNMENT, ENRICHED THEMSELVES, AND BEGGARED THE NATION takes a look back at the decade that was. (August 17, 2007)

References and Reading:
Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman's Web site.

"Tea Party/Fox Party"
By Eric Alterman, The Center for American Progress, January 21, 2010.

Eric Alterman on THE DAILY BEAST.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell

Melissa Harris Lacewell's Web site.

Melissa Harris Lacewell's posts on THE NOTION, a NATION magazine blog.

Views on Obama's First Year

"The Obameter: Tracking Obama's Campaign Promises"
Politifact.com, a project of the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, has been keeping track of Obama's campaign promises. See how he's doing one year in.

SALON.COM: Obama's First Year
The online magazine's writers look back at President Obama's first year.

"He Doesn't Feel Your Pain"
By John B. Judis, THE NEW REPUBLIC, January 20, 2010. Judis argues that President Obama has failed to connect with the white working class.

"Ghost Story"
By Thomas B. Edsall, THE NEW REPUBLIC, January 20, 2010.

"For This Libertarian, Obama's First Year Looks Grim"
By David Boaz, NPR, January 20, 2010. Boaz, of the Cato Institute, argues that Obama's first year has been a bad one for civil liberties.

Also This Week:
A YEAR OF OBAMA
The JOURNAL assesses Obama's first year as President in the wake of Democrats' defeat in Massachusetts' special election for Senate with Princeton politics and African American studies professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell and journalist Eric Alterman.

AMERICA'S ENERGY CHALLENGE
Faced with the increasing global demand for oil and the threat of climate change, experts say that America needs a new energy policy — but what are our options? Bill Moyers sits down with analysts Jean Johnson and Scott Bittle to discuss how we can power America's future.

HAITI CRISIS ONLINE
Find out where to get up-to-the-minute information on the situation and relief efforts online. And, read more from poet Danielle Georges.

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