In his first State of the Union address, President Barack Obama stressed the need for bipartisanship in Washington to help the country continue toward economic recovery, pushed for health care reform and focused on easing the financial burden for those paying for higher education.
Obama’s speech Wednesday was broadcast at the USC Davidson Conference Center after a pre-State of the Union discussion led by Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics. The event was hosted by the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, the Unruh Institute and the College of Letters, Arts & Sciences.
The panelists — Schnur; Geneva Overholser, director of the School of Journalism; and Hillel Aaron, opinion editor of Neon Tommy, an online publication of Annenberg — focused on how Obama should address the American people in light of waning confidence reflected in his struggles to implement health care reform.
“The disappointment when you get into the presidential seat and you can’t do what you promised to do feels even more intense,” Overholser said. “When people feel that they’ve had this really powerful connection with somebody, then they’re more disappointed when he doesn’t turn out to be what they expected.”
Obama’s address focused on the steps that need to be taken to restore America’s faith in the economy.
“As hard as it may be, as uncomfortable and contentious as the debates may become, it’s time to get serious about fixing the problems that are hampering our financial growth,” Obama said.
Among his efforts to add jobs, cut taxes, increase security and freeze discretionary funding, Obama promised to make college affordable.
“No one should go broke because they chose to go to college,” Obama said.
Obama said he plans to increase Pell grants, give tax credits for higher education and institute a loan-forgiveness plan, as well as encourage universities to lower costs.
Jafet Santiago, a junior majoring in political science who plans to attend law school, said Obama’s pledge to help students pay for college was absolutely the right promise to make.
“It’s a huge deal in California, where community colleges … are cutting back on their classes and their semesters,” said Santiago, a self-described Republican.
Santiago transferred to USC from Santa Monica Community College, where he said he saw the school suffer in the face of a struggling economy.
Despite the recent blow to health care reform with the election of Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) to replace the late Ted Kennedy as one of Massachusetts’ senators, Obama continued to press the need for change in the current system.
“Here’s what I ask Congress though: Don’t walk away from reform, not now, not when we are so close,” Obama said. “Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people. Let’s get it done.”
Health care reform was a major topic for the discussion panel, along with debate about the social networking nature of the media and Obama’s past promises.
Though opinions on Obama’s presidency differ, Stephen Lamb, a junior majoring in history, said the turnout at the event is an encouraging sign.
“I think the most important part of his speech is his audience, and it’s a real sign of the attention that our demographic received,” he said.