President Barack Obama has always been a powerful speaker; Tuesday night’s State of the Union address was no different. For around an hour, President Obama laid out his plan for 2014, a plan that advocated moving forward. At his best, he was moving and poignant. He introduced nothing new, yet renewed his determination to policy decisions he believes best for America. President Obama’s address covered topics from healthcare to raising the minimum wage, with personal stories mixed in with messages of hope.
President Obama listed numerous ways in which he hopes to work with Congress, but also that he will act through Executive Action if he needs to do so, an impressive show of confidence by a President with an approval rating in the low 40%s. The economy remains a topic of debate: along side healthcare and foreign policy, however, three of the topics that affect college students the most were equality of opportunity for women, gun violence, and the equality of opportunity.
Equality for women is hotly debated, but President Obama said, “Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job.” He dropped a joke about being from a “Mad Men” episode; women are a large part of the workforce and President Obama renewed his desire to treat them equally as befits the 21st century.
In a time where most Americans support gun reform legislation, DC has still done nothing to curb the threat of violence. In a renewed call to Congress, President Obama emphatically called for “standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day.” Not only did he call for the stemming of gun violence, but also called for a greater care for mental health. While gun reform may not happen within Congress, President Obama is ready “to keep trying, with or without Congress.”
College students today face many challenges along the path to, and after graduation. Students are working to pay for their education, and some never even get the chance to attend college. President Obama called for a raised minimum wage that would help students earn more and noted the impact health insurance can have, “Moms, get on your kids to sign up. Kids, call your mom and walk her through the application. It will give her some peace of mind–plus she’ll appreciate hearing from you.” He also implored Congress to continue to support students by working with student loans to make it easy to repay and avoid crippling debt immediately following college.
However, President Obama made a more broad equality of opportunity throughout the world. He touched on steps taken to help those that most need it. While some Americans are suffering, around the world there are people that are worse off. “Across Africa, we’re bringing together businesses and governments to double access to electricity and help end extreme poverty.” He also focused on immigration policy and how it denies many people the American Dream. On a more relatable note to college kids, he called on us to get involved: “We believe in the inherent dignity and equality of every human being, regardless of race or religion, creed or sexual orientation.”
While the State of the Union is used as a rhetorical device, at times coming heavy-handed, President Obama did call strongly for what he thinks is best for the country. The strongest moment of the speech came when he introduced Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg and highlighted how the American people should strive to emulate Remsburg’s mettle. “The America we want for our kids…none of it is easy. But if we work together; if we summon what is best in us, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow–I know it’s within our reach.”
For President Obama, this State of the Union was similar to other speeches he has made, and many will judge the success of the speech on what he is able to do. However, this State of the Union was distinctly different in that President Obama called for Congress to act, but promises to move forward on his own if necessary. President Obama will continue to prod at a Congress with miniscule approval ratings and continue to try and bring America into the 21st century.