Approximately 100 students, faculty and staff gathered in the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism’s East Lobby Tuesday night to watch President Barack Obama’s fifth State of the Union address. Those in attendance watched intently as the president offered his agenda in front of the 113th United States Congress.
The president opened on a positive note and addressed a broad purview of issues, focusing on economic growth, the wage disparity and raising the minimum wage.
“Upward mobility has stalled,” the president said in his address. “The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by — let alone get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.”
Other issues the president discussed included U.S. technological innovation, energy independence and immigration reform. Vice President Joe Biden, who watched stoically for most of the speech, stood to applaud when the president called for a comprehensive immigration bill.
Though the lobby remained silent for most of the address, cheers erupted from both men and women in the audience when the president addressed inequality in the workplace.
“It is time to do away with workplace policy that belongs in a Mad Men episode,” the president said.
The president concluded honoring wounded Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg, and invoking his difficult but spirited recovery as analogous to the nation’s.
Following the speech, the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC held a panel featuring Dan Schnur, director of the Unruh Institute who is currently on leave; Bill Simon, co-founder and co-chairman of William E. Simon & Sons, LLC; Sarah Herald, president of the USC College Democrats and Jack Merritt, speaker’s director of the USC College Republicans.
The panel debated the merits of the speech, and whether or not it was a missed opportunity for larger agenda initiatives such as President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 State of the Union call to put U.S. astronauts on the moon.
Democrats and Republicans on the panel also contested unemployment insurance in more depth.
“The president and Congress don’t have a lot of middle ground on the issue,” Schnur said.
Schnur continued to say that the president will not be able to reach bipartisan compromise for unemployment insurance for the remainder of his term.
Students were enthusiastic to interact with the panel when questions were opened up to the floor, tackling issues from gun control to the closure of Guantánamo Bay Prison.
The panel also addressed the president’s failure to mention the debt crisis in the State of the Union.
“Sometimes what people don’t say is just as important as what they do say,” Simon said in response to President Obama’s silence regarding the economy.
In general, students responded favorably to the Unruh panel.
“I thought it was interesting that they were all on the same page, it speaks to the neutrality of the speech this year,” said Annie Wanless, a sophomore majoring in political science.
Other students wished for controversy between the panel’s bipartisan members.
“I came to the panel because I’m part of the College Republicans,” said Lisa Battaglia, a sophomore majoring in communication. “I like having these opportunities where I can learn from the best of the best. I thought the panelists all did really well- -— I kind of wanted more argument, though.”
Still, the general consensus was that the panel capably tackled the tough issues.
“They did a very good job addressing some very challenging topics that generally aren’t easy to address without substantial research and data,” said Eric Dubbury, a junior majoring in music industry.
The speech itself, however, was met with slightly more hesitation.
“Talk is cheap,” Dubbery said. “There is debate as to what is going to go down from the White House as compared to what was being talked about in the speech. People shouldn’t take the State of the Union as something that is set in stone.”