SCHENECTADY President Barack Obama’s previous press secretary, Robert Gibbs, spoke at Union College on Monday night and recounted stories from his tenure, waxed about the national political landscape and talked about the president’s re-election campaign.
In the cavernous Memorial Chapel in the center of campus, Gibbs spoke before a mix of college students and local residents, who filled a majority of the 900 available seats.
Before diving into memories from his two-year stint in the White House, Gibbs shared a few personal anecdotes. He joked about warmer weather since his last visit to Schenectady in January with the president, revealed that he isn’t used to being the center of attention anymore and touted the fact that he lost 25 pounds since returning to Chicago in February to coordinate the president’s campaign.
Gibbs began his recollections by laying out the environment President Obama inherited upon taking office. He described a dangerously weak economy, an energy crisis and a broken health care system, but suggested that the unforeseen problems were the ones to be worried about.
“The hardest obstacles to deal with were the ones you wouldn’t expect to occur,” he said. To illustrate this point he referred to the Gulf oil spill last spring, which ended up commanding the administration’s attention. Gibbs acknowledged, “Those were some of the toughest briefings I had.”
He argued that he faced unique circumstances in his job because of a changing media, which has evolved to utilize new means of communications while lacking substance. Gibbs said that these two factors will greatly affect how the government deals with things like the deficit or the debt, with politicians arguing in sound bites and the media only covering the politics of the issue. All of this, he said, makes it harder for politicians to act responsibly and compromise on issues like spending.
“We’re going to have to make some tough decisions to handle the deficit,” Gibbs said. “None of it will be fun. Less of it will be easy.”
In terms of the recently initiated presidential campaign for 2012, Gibbs predicted that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will emerge from a murky Republican field to win his party’s endorsement. “Mitt Romney is the front-runner in a party that traditionally nominates front-runners,” he reasoned.
Gibbs didn’t give much credence to the ballyhooed political chatter being drummed up by Donald Trump, who he predicted would not end up mounting a presidential bid.
Besides the economy, the other major factor for the 2012 campaign season that Gibbs touched on was the growing Latino voting bloc in the country. He characterized Latino voters as the swing vote for the election and suggested that Republican views on issues like immigration would ultimately doom their candidate.
Still, Gibbs came under fire during a question and answer segment from a woman who identified herself as a “Latina” and who lambasted the Obama administration for not delivering on promises like the Dream Act, which failed in the Senate over the winter.
A constant theme during the question portion of the evening, during which the crowd became sparse, was disappointment, as a string of disillusioned students contended that the president hasn’t done enough in his first two years.
Niskayuna resident Louis Solano, 26, said the talk was impressive and insightful but contended that the give-and-take with the audience was more engaging than the prepared remarks. Solano, who works two jobs and has been a supporter of the president, said his vote could change and labeled the economy as his biggest concern. “I don’t like to lock myself into a candidate,” he said.
Regarding Gibbs’ mostly non-partisan message from Monday night, Solano said it didn’t sway his vote one way or another.