President Barack Obama gave his annual State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress which included the House of Representatives, Senate, Supreme Court Justices, various members of his cabinet, and many other dignitaries.
Grant Weaver, a sophomore at Suffolk, explained he was watching the speech “[out] of habit in part I guess,” and that he felt it to be “kind of my duty to watch and listen to see what the President hopes the country can achieve this year. And there’s always the chance of a once in a lifetime JFK calling on Americans to go to the moon kind of moment.”
Weaver, who is an international affairs major, said he hoped Obama would mention “the economy, but I really want to see what he has to say about North Korea’s nuclear test, and how it relates to the ‘policy swing’ focusing the military on Asia.”
Leading up to the speech itself, Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), a liberal group with nearly one million members nationwide, released a statement earlier in the day. He began by saying that “progressives may be torn in two directions tonight,” in the sense that they are “likely [to] agree 100 percent with the President’s case for bold laws that stop gun killings,” while having “to prepare for war if the president embraces cuts to Social Security benefits.”
Green continued by explaining how costs of living adjustments “would hurt millions of grandparents and veterans by taking thousands of dollars out of their tiny budgets. Cutting Social Security benefits would also be political suicide for Democrats in 2014. There’s no need to do that, and our hope is that the president doesn’t go there tonight.”
Turning to the matter of gun control, Green mentioned how PCCC’s new TV ad that features “a gun owner supporting the President’s gun plan will air tonight in Washington, DC and Senator McConnell’s homestate of Kentucky. President Obama can keep progressives and the majority of Americans aligned behind him if he continues to lead on guns and takes Social Security benefits off the negotiating table.”
After his considerably liberal inauguration speech, where he mentioned LGBT rights and immigration, many expected similar remarks from the President. Liberal democrats hoped for more of the similar political speak, but this time with preparations for real action on the issues.
Matthew Gifford, a freshman majoring in political science, said he was watching the speech because of its importance as part of our society every year. He believes “every American, whatever party you are affiliated with or whether you support or disapprove of the President, should watch the SOTU as it allows us citizens the opportunity to acknowledge the President’s efforts and ideas and be able to reflect on them as individuals.” He also added that “[as] we all know the economy is one of the major topics in our nation currently, I hope the President will touch base on Education, the global issues with North Korea, the continuing efforts of bringing our troops home from Afghanistan, and gun control.”
After shaking numerous hands, walking down the aisle and up to the podium, Obama began his speech with a quote from a former president.
“Fifty-one years ago, John F. Kennedy declared to this Chamber that ‘the Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress…It is my task,’ he said, ‘to report the State of the Union – to improve it is the task of us all.’”
Obama went on to say that the United States is improving in many ways, including with oil production, automobile manufacturing, and the financial sector of our economy. He described how “[we] buy more American cars than we have in five years, and less foreign oil than we have in twenty. Our housing market is healing, our stock market is rebounding, and consumers, patients, and homeowners enjoy stronger protections than ever before. Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger.”
Similar to what he said at his second inauguration, Obama went into detail about the necessity to focus efforts on fixing the growing climate change problems. “[For] the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.”
Among the other wide-ranging topics discussed in his 2013 State of the Union speech, Obama talked in detail about terrorism, immigration reform, cyber-security, poverty with an increase to a minimum wage of $9, the Violence Against Women Act, and Middle East diplomacy.
Obama later added that the “promise of an AIDS-free generation [is] in our reach.” He also announced a nonpartisan commission to fix voting, and declared that the “American people demand it, and so does our democracy!”
When it came to gun control, many were curious to see what the President had to say. Obama spoke about the gun control legislation that is currently being brought up in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
“Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.” He mentioned how Hadiya Pendleton, a girl who had been in his inaugural parade just weeks before, had been shot in Chicago. Then, a moment that brought nearly everyone in the room to their feet.
“Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote,” Obama said.
“Gabby Giffords deserves a vote,” he continued “[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.
In the conclusion of the President’s speech, Weaver explained that it “was the most moving speech I have ever heard. When President Obama spoke about the victims of all these horrible tragedies deserved a vote in regard to gun violence reduction measures I could hardly breathe,” and added “[besides] that Obama spoke about a bigger vision for the world and the U.S. which I really agreed upon. He talked about climate change and globalization, and the need to build infrastructure in order to improve our economy.”
As a follow-up, Neil Sroka, press secretary for PCCC, also released Adam Green’s reaction to the President’s speech: “President Obama’s words on guns were absolutely inspiring. Equally inspiring would be some words Americans are still waiting for — a promise that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits will not be cut. We’ll be working for these important priorities in the weeks ahead.”
After watching the President’s speech Tuesday night, Gifford, who is also a senator for the Freshman Class of 2016, said he “believe[s] President Obama did an amazing job tonight. His presence, his words, his ability to uphold the high standards that many citizens hold him too was truly inspirational. I am more than pleased about what he shared with the nation, and I am looking forward to seeing his words becoming actions.”
However, alongside those who enjoyed and were inspired, Republicans did not find the President’s speech very impressive. Katie Desrosiers, a junior majoring in government, said “it continues to amaze [her] how large government is. The President once again laid out more government intervention to save an economy that is in dire need of government contraction.”
Marco Rubio, the freshman U.S. Senator from Florida, was selected to give the Republican response after Obama’s speech ended. Although many in the media and on the Internet gave him flack for pausing to snatch up a quick drink of water, the issues Rubio brought up received much support from his fellow Republican politicians on taxes, immigration, and Medicare. As a bilingual Senator, he also provided the Republican response in Spanish. Just earlier this week, TIME Magazine was published with Rubio on the cover under the title “Republican Savior.”
For those interested, there were exactly 72 times that the President paused while members of the audience clapped or gave him a standing ovation. This number increased from last year when it reached 51 during Obama’s 2012 State of the Union speech.