As a historian, Suri is an engaging commentator. Here are his off-the-cuff thoughts on a grab bag of current issues.
President Obama's record so far: "I think he's done quite well, especially on foreign policy. He's shown, out of instinct as much as experience, that you gain influence by reaching out to people. Reaching out is not a sign of weakness, it's a sign of strength, and [the U.S.] has benefited from that enormously."
The tea-partiers' cry of "socialism": "Which president did more to socialize the American economy since FDR? It's George W. Bush! The Paulson plan is closer to socialism than anything Obama's talking about. I'm against socialism, too, and I think we've gone too far in that direction, and it's not Obama, it's what we did at the beginning of the bailout. It's socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor."
Is Palin viable in 2012? "No.... People do not want to elect people who don't have basic leadership skills. For all you can say about George W. Bush, he did know how to organize people and get them to work together."
The mindset of "birthers": "What I hear birthers saying is not so much that he was not born in the United States. It's that he's suspicious, there's something about him that's not right. I hear that being about race, but also about how he came to where he is, what he believes about certain things. It's a mask for bigger political differences. They're uncomfortable with a perceived loss of control over their lives that often has nothing to do with Obama."
The summer's town-hall disruptions: "People are coming with their guns to symbolically say, we don't trust other people to protect us. I think town hall meetings are always messy and disruptive. In a certain way, it's healthy that they're not scripted."
Mayor Dave Cieslewicz: "I don't know him well, but I like the attitude he brings. He's part politician, part intellectual manager. I'd like to see him do more with the university. It would be great to create a dialogue on how the university can make Madison a better place."
College students today: "They are smarter and harder working and better prepared course-wise. The problems are, they're much more professionalized and anxiety-ridden, more concerned about whether they're going to have a comfortable professional future. That makes them less willing to take risks."