Joy and hope greet Obama victory

This electoral map tells the tale of Obama's decisive victory.

The campus community greeted news of President-elect Barack Obama's victory with joy and enthusiasm on Wednesday morning.

"This was a remarkable, historical election," said political scientist Sheldon Kamieniecki, dean of the Division of Social Sciences. "Everything came together for Barack Obama. It's a decisive victory."

The election of the nation's first African American president was stunning in ways that fuse symbolism and substance, said politics professor Daniel Wirls.

"It is extraordinary," said Wirls. "This election has produced change because the unthinkable has happened, and that will change our perceptions of what is ordinary--not just in the sense of what's possible for African Americans, but also for whites who didn't necessarily want this, because they'll see that the sky is not falling."

Like many, David Anthony, an associate professor of history who specializes in African American history, said he was astonished by Obama's victory.

"There's nothing that compares with this," said Anthony, who is black. "This is really a new dawn."

"I think young people aren't having that hard a time believing it, but if you've been trained by experience to be cautious, skeptical, cynical or just plain hurt, it'll take a very, very long time to just accept this," said Anthony. "I think it's something that not just our entire society but the whole world is confronting now."

Obama's election presents an opportunity for racial healing, but Anthony said that's a collective responsibility.

"This is a big step, but it puts a lot of weight on one person to suggest it's within their power to fix (race relations)," said Anthony. "I think Obama's victory could be an inspiration to all of us who would like to see that change and are willing to work to make it a reality. It is within our grasp."

Campus political experts said the nation's staggering economy bolstered support for Obama across the country, as did widespread dissatisfaction with President Bush. Obama's victory was also boosted by his superb campaign organization and a tremendously successful fundraising effort, and he benefited from Republican Sen. John McCain's weak campaign, they said.

Wirls, who studies the presidency and Congress, expects Obama to pursue "moderately liberal policies" and to have an opportunity to work with moderate Republicans in the Senate.

Kamieniecki, calling Obama "a very inspiring, talented, smart individual," anticipates a successful first term for the president-elect.

"If he governs as a moderate who reaches across the aisle, he'll be very successful," predicted Kamieniecki. "Republicans need to step up to the plate. They got a whooping."

Hundreds of students marched across campus on Tuesday night in celebration, said Victor Sanchez Jr., vice chair of external affairs for the Student Union Assembly, a third-year senior majoring in sociology and Latin American and Latino studies.

"I'm enthralled," said Sanchez. "We've turned a corner, and we're going in a new direction that the majority of the youth vote desired."

"I'm really excited. I have a smile on my face, and it's enlightening to have everybody behind the new president," said Sanchez, who helped register 3,698 new student voters on campus. Systemwide, more than 40,000 new voters were registered on UC campuses, he said.

Sanchez is eager to see Obama follow through on campaign promises to fund higher education and make college more accessible for students. "I hope the president-elect and Congress hit the floor running," he said.

Professor of economics Lori Kletzer said she was "very encouraged" by Obama's victory.

"Everything we've heard over the past six weeks as the economy has melted down indicates that the president-elect has an understanding of the severity of the problems and an understanding of the kinds of policies that will be required to address the financial market's problems and the recession we're in the midst of," she said.

The economy and health care should be at the top of Obama's list, and he'll need to bring a commitment to fiscal discipline to both issues, she said. "He hasn't said as much as I think he needs to say about how he's going to pay for everything," she said. But his support among high-income voters, who will face higher taxes under an Obama administration, indicates strong support for fiscal responsibility, she said.

For many, the apparent passage of Proposition 8 put a damper on an otherwise festive mood. The success of the proposal to deny same-sex couples the right to marry was a sign of the state's "quirky populism," said Kamieniecki.

"California is quite liberal on economic issues but moderate to conservative on social issues," he said. "I've never gotten my finger on the true soul of the California electorate."

Sanchez expressed disappointment with the passage of Prop. 8--but also determination.

"A lot of us are deeply saddened, but it's a kind of motivation," said Sanchez. "We're not going to stop. It's one more obstacle to jump over to be the change we want to see."