Panelists discuss Obama’s State of the Union address

The Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics held a viewing and panel discussion of the State of the Union attended by about 250 people at Wallis Annenberg Hall on Tuesday night.

President Barack Obama began his speech looking back at the past 15 years that ravaged the nation with wars and a crippling recession.

“But tonight, we turn the page,” Obama said.

In the introduction, he outlined the nation’s improvement to a range of topics, such as the economy and education citing the best college graduation rate the nation has ever witnessed.

In his speech that focused on pushing for a progressively liberal economic agenda, Obama said this may be the first time in years that college students may feel confident in graduating and joining the workforce.

The president’s address also focused on the end of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the responsible actions that should be taken in order for armed conflicts to be a measure of last resort.

“When we make rash decisions — reacting to the headlines instead of using our heads — when the first response to a challenge is to send in our military, then we risk getting drawn into unnecessary conflicts,” Obama said.

The president also prompted the legislature to lift the ban on the Cuba embargo.

“When what you’re doing doesn’t work for 50 years, it’s time to try something new,” he said.

The panel for the discussion following the president’s address included Jessica Yellin, a former chief White House correspondent for CNN; Professor Robert Shrum, the Carmen H. and Louis Warschaw Chair in Practical Politics; Sarah Dhanaphatana, Daily Trojan assistant city editor; and Daniel Rothberg, former Daily Trojan managing editor.

The panel, mediated by the executive director of the Unruh Institute of Politics Dan Schnur, touched on topics ranging from the meaning of the color of the ties worn by Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner to the likely Republican reaction to the speech.

The speech demonstrated to be emotionally charged focusing on the positive State of the Union but also rallied for both sides of the aisle to work together on issues that have affected the majority of Americans.

“He hit the emotional high notes that can rally his base and remind people why he was elected,” Yellin said.

“It was a great opportunity for the president to talk about all of the great things he has accomplished and to describe all of the things that are on his agenda for this coming year and at the same time, he addressed working on both sides of the aisle,” said Andrew Menard, Undergraduate Student Government president.

Obama also discussed the recent proposal to make community college tuition free for students who maintain good grades and graduate on time.

“I agree with that,” said Menard referring to the president’s proposal on free tuition for community colleges. “At the same time, I think it needs to be done responsibly, which is what Congress will challenge him on.  I would like to see a plan passed that makes the most sense,” Menard said.  He stressed that education for as many Americans as possible would make a positive change.

Though the specific details of the plan have yet to be released, students at the event voiced opinions about the proposal.

“He should extend that and include a plan for university students as well,” said Sarah Collins,  a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism and political science.

“He did mention that 40 percent of people go to community college but there is also a need for students working towards their bachelor’s degrees.  So I think the next step, if this were to get passed, is to focus on tuition rates for school systems like the UC’s.

The reaction of the republican-led legislature is expected to be as aggressive as the speech.

“I think for the most part, they’re going to keep on doing what they’re doing,” Collins said of the stalemate Congress has been in for the last few years. “Everything he said, the Republicans will at least partially criticize,” she said.

Professor Shrum described how after the president laid out his agenda, he spoke for the whole country. “He spoke about values,” Shrum said .

“We’ve laid a new foundation. A brighter future is ours to write. Let’s begin this new chapter together and let’s start the work right now,” the President concluded.

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