State of the Union: A Work in Progress

Communication Department Runs a "State of the Union" Party to Analyze Speech

Dr. Michael Phillips-Anderson of the Communication Depart­ment organized the University’s annual screening of the State of the Union address on the eve­ning of Tuesday, February 12. With just over a dozen students in attendance, the event received fewer turnout compared to last year, but still proved itself to be equally as informative.

Throughout the first State of the Union address of his second term, President Obama provided Congress and the American pub­lic with a framework of his leg­islative agenda: a comprehensive list of his priorities and objectives for the remainder of his term.

He reminded Americans that while it is the President’s task to report the state of the union, it is the task of all U.S. citizens to im­prove it. Admiring a laundry list of accomplishments, Obama said, “Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and we can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger.”

The President explained that al­though improving the state of our union is a difficult task, there has been much progress to report, in­cluding six million new jobs, less dependence on foreign oil within 20 years, an improved housing market, a rebounding stock mar­ket, and a greater sense of protec­tion for consumers, patients, and homeowners than ever before.

However, in order to restore our union we must first accomplish unfinished tasks, the President explained. While the economy has been adding jobs, too many Americans still can’t find full-time employment to support their families. While corporate profits have skyrocketed, wages and in­comes have barely budged.

The President inspired a call to action to combat these respon­sibilities by declaring, “It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s eco­nomic growth: a rising, thriving middle class.” In a society where working hard to get ahead is a key value of American life, the Presi­dent reminded U.S. citizens and a bi-partisan Congress that “Amer­ica moves forward only when we do so together.”

Often criticized for being guilty of such inaction, the Presi­dent reassured Americans that he understands that government shouldn’t make promises it can’t keep and that it must keep prom­ises that have already been made. That is why, he explained, we must ask ourselves three ques­tions as a nation: “How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills to get those jobs? How do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?”

The President maintained a sense of urgency throughout the address, advising Congress that they must act right away in or­der to ensure the possibility of a stronger union. He urged that working to reinforce a stronger America would be next to impos­sible if Congress does not lead a bi-partisan effort in order to achieve goals.

“The American people don’t expect government to solve every problem. They don’t expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue. But they do expect us to put the nation’s interests before party,” he said.

The President touched upon many important concerns throughout the address that he requested bi-partisan effort with, notably the economy, debt and deficit reduction, infrastructure, minimum wage, education, im­migration-reform, and gun con­trol.

One of the major issues in which he urged Congress to agree upon regardless of party differences was that of the bud­get. While the U.S. national debt continues to rise at an average of approximately $3.8 billion dollars per day, the President urged that we must put the nation’s interests first and combat the deficit. He proposed that in order to reduce the deficit by four trillion dollars, the administration’s current goal, Congress must continue to cut spending and raise taxes on the wealthiest of Americans.

However, Obama said, “We can’t just cut our way to prosper­ity, He continued we must “Set party interests aside and work to pass a budget that replaces reck­less cuts with smart savings and wise investments in our future.”

In order to go about reducing the deficit, we must make Ameri­ca a place that is better equipped to meet business owner’s needs. On the international spectrum, the United States is often criti­cized for its “Third-world-esque” energy systems. The President hopes to change that by upgrad­ing infrastructure and repairing the current energy sector so that the United States is a desirable place to own and operate busi­nesses.

The President proposed a “Fix-It-First” program that he believes would put Americans back to work. By combating our most urgent repairs, such as “the nearly 70,000 structurally defi­cient bridges across the country,” keeping jobs in America will be one step closer to achievable, the Obama explained.

He also proposed a “Partner­ship to Rebuild America” in or­der to upgrade what U.S. busi­nesses need most: “Modern ports to move our goods; modern pipe­lines to withstand a storm; mod­ern schools worthy of our chil­dren.”

President Obama pledged that equipping citizens with the right skills and training would be nec­essary in order to put Americans back to work. By ensuring that children from a young age are given the opportunity to get supe­rior education, America’s youth will have a chance for a prosper­ous future.

Obama expressed his desire to work with states to make high quality preschool available to ev­ery single child in America. “So let’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance,” he proposed.

Dr. Don Swanson of the com­munication department ex­pressed a similar opinion. “What is known about the way the brain develops at a young age is that it is a very developmental and im­portant factor in ensuring our na­tion’s youth to have more success later in life,” Swanson said.

He continued, “That is why kids must get a head start on their education.”

However, today’s skyrocketing costs are pricing too many young people out of higher education and are saddling them with un­sustainable debt after college. A recurrent topic from his last State of the Union, President Obama still has making college more af­fordable on his agenda, however, urges that colleges must do their own part to keep their tuition costs down.

“So, tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid,” Obama said.

In order to ensure a more pros­perous future for all Americans, the President encouraged that we must do more. He stressed a need for equality, not only for women but for all Americans regardless of race, gender, sexual orienta­tion, and socio-economic status. That is why, he explained, he seeks to raise the federal mini­mum wage to nine dollars an hour as opposed to the current $7.25.

New Jersey is attempting to take this step forward .If mini­mum wage is raised, New Jer­sey’s minimum wage to $8.25. While the cost of living continues to climb in the current economy, he stressed that minimum wage must become a wage that you can live on. A recurrent theme throughout the address, Obama stressed the need for stronger families, stronger communities, and stronger America.

In an effort to grow stronger here at home, we must also expand our power throughout the world, Obama explained. The President explained, we must “stand unit­ed” and bring our troops home. While he has already removed 33,000 troops from Afghanistan in the past year, he announced his strong desire to remove another 34,000 troops by the end of the year. “By the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over,” Obama declared.

However, although he promised to remove troops from Afghani­stan, he stressed a need to fight terrorism elsewhere, such as in countries like Yemen, Libya, and Somalia. The President warned that although he plans on remov­ing troops, we would need to strengthen our own military de­fenses here at home and do what is necessary to prevent other nations from obtaining nuclear weapons.

In order to defend the freedom our nation was founded on, we must all do our part, he explained. However, that will not be possible until we can improve the voting experience for all Americans, said Obama. He explained we are betraying our ideals by making Americans wait in line for hours to cast their vote.

Swanson expressed a similar opinion and he said, “Some peo­ple work up to two jobs at a time and don’t have time to take off work on a Tuesday to go vote.”

He explained that while many states have taken this into consid­eration and have allowed for vot­ing by mail or weekend voting, there are countless others who are many steps behind.

“It’s difficult to promote de­mocracy when there are so many problems with being democrat­ic,” Swanson said. Perhaps the most compelling example, he explained, was when President Obama introduced Desiline Vic­tor, a 102-year-old woman who waited six hours to cast her vote in this past election.

“Even if people don’t agree with the President on many things, most can agree that there should be national standards on voting,” Swanson said.

One of the most rousing mo­ments in Obama’s speech, how­ever, came when he discussed one of the most controversial ques­tions on the minds of thousands of Americans today: gun con­trol. President Obama lamented, “More than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.”

This just two months since the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, a moment that he called the worst in his presidency.

One of those lives, he noted, was that that of Hadiya Pend­leton, a 15-year-old girl, who marched in his inaugural parade last month. Just one week later, she was shot and killed in Chica­go, just a few blocks from where the President grew up.

For Pendleton and countless other unintended victims of gun violence, President Obama urged Congress to act quickly by ut­tering the words, “They deserve a vote.” In the audience, Pendle­ton’s parents watched stoically as the President spoke of our coun­try’s urgent need for gun reform.

“Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The fami­lies of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence—they deserve a simple vote,” he concluded.

Nicole Shapiro, senior com­munication major said, “I thought the President did a great job ad­dressing gun control. It’s obvi­ously a huge topic right now and he made it personal.”

She continued, “He had peo­ple who were directly affected by gun violence stand up while he told their stories, it was very touching and well done.”

Caitlin Edore, senior commu­nication major agreed that the use of victims of gun violence in the audience was profound; how­ever, “I feel that the President and the government had a set agenda by inviting all the gun victims to the address.” She explained, “While having gun victims and their families in the audience was heartwarming, I don’t think using pathos to persuade the American public to further his stance on gun control was at all appropri­ate.”