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Posted at 11:04 PM ET, 01/13/2011

Tavis Smiley's forum provokes a lively discussion about Obama's future

By Hamil R. Harris

From left, panelists Arianna Huffington, Tavis Smiley, CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo, Princeton University professor Cornel West and speechwriter David Frum take part in "America's Next Chapter" forum. (Hamil R. Harris/The Washington Post)

A forum gathered Thursday night on the campus of George Washington University by PBS talk-show host Tavis Smiley generated a lively discussion about the trajectory of President Obama's next two years in office.

Several hundred people packed GWU's Lisner Auditorium for a three-hour panel discussion that Smiley, the moderator, titled "America's Next Chapter." The eight panelists for the forum offered a politically diverse group of views, including Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, to David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W Bush.

Smiley helped stoke the conversation with provocative questions. "When the tea party says, 'We are going to take our country back,' .. from whom?" he asked Maria Teresa Kumar, the co-founder of Voto Latino and an MSNBC political contributor. She responded by saying that the tea party was born because "The middle-class male felt disenfranchised. When they say, 'Take America back,' they want the America they grew up with."

Asked about the perception of a lack of civility in the country today, Huffington said, "When there is a fundamental crisis that affects people's survival, the worst comes out." She went on to criticize Obama for not doing more to create jobs, saying, "There is no evidence that this White House has waken up to the urgency of the creation of jobs."

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank challenged the notion that the "mainstream media" is to blame for not exposing problems in the United States. Citing the audience for Rush Limbaugh and other conservative radio hosts, compared to that of traditional news organizations, Milbank said, "There is no mainstream media."

Other panelists included John Chen, the chief executive of the technology firm Sybase; CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo; and David Brody, chief political correspondent for CBN News, affiliated with the Christian Broadcasting Network. All speculated about the coming two years of the Obama White House, but another panelist, Princeton University professor Cornel West, said he wanted to set the record straight about the president in terms of Martin Luther King.

"People like to say that President Barack Obama is the fulfillment of King's dream. This is not true. He is a fulfillment," said West, who went from offering assessments to quoting scriptures during a discussion that offered more speculation than concrete answers.

By Hamil R. Harris  | January 13, 2011; 11:04 PM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency  
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As we continue to struggle in this Hypocrisy of Democrazy, the meek will inherit the land of righteous souls,

Posted by: raycurtfiddla | January 17, 2011 2:07 PM | Report abuse

I sincerely hope Obama does have a future with this country. I applaud his efforts so far and encourage him to press on!

Posted by: fakedude1 | January 16, 2011 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Tavis Smiley's forum was surprisingly informative and thought provoking. It was not the usual Obama bashing session that dominated his forums during the presidential primary and after the election. We heard an array of ideas from both sides of the political spectrum. I was especially impressed with John Chen and Maria Teresa Kumar. David Frum was also good. I wish I could have heard more from the three of them. There were some knocks against the Pres., mostly from A. Huffington with the encouragement of Tavis, but they didn't dominate the discussion.The panel seemed more interested in looking for solutions.

Posted by: mrgrbrad2 | January 14, 2011 4:43 PM | Report abuse

I'm extremely happy that I was able to be present for this thought provoking discussion. The Panelists all bought their experiences, perceptions, and analysis to the current state of affairs facing this nation socially, economically and politically. I walked away feeling that it was time well spent and hopeful that there are more conversations like this in the near future.

Posted by: Debonair31 | January 14, 2011 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Thank you so much for the stimulating conversation on moving America forward. I learned so much in such a short time. I have been a fan of Dr West for some time now and so glad I can now find him on a regular basis. Great stuff! I hope it is replayed as I missed some of it. Thanks to all the participants.

Posted by: dcratinohio | January 14, 2011 12:53 PM | Report abuse

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